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  • Writer's pictureTali Orad

The Future of the Baobab Trees

Baobabs are considered a keystone species, meaning they hold ecosystems together. But they are in trouble, potential victims of the warming globe. Scientists sounded the alarm more than five years ago when they investigated why some of the oldest and largest baobabs in southern Africa had died.

In subsequent studies, scientists found these long-lived mammoths are vulnerable to climate change and predicted that four of the world’s baobab species could become extinct soon. When a keystone species is diminished, the change affects the entire system.

Complicating the picture for the baobab’s survival is a host of other man-made threats— including entrenched poverty in one of the world’s poorest countries, which can drive deforestation, as farmers search for more arable land. In the last 20 years, the country of Madagascar has lost nearly a quarter of its tree cover, primarily to logging, according to a recent study published in Science outlining threats to Madagascar’s biodiversity.

Scientists are still sorting out if baobabs can adapt to their changing environment or if baobab forests could be replanted.

As the changing climate causes rising temperatures and recalibrates rainfall patterns, trees all over the globe are on the move. In temperate regions, trees have begun migrating toward the poles to find cooler places to grow.

When scientists modeled how rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns could affect Madagascar’s baobab forests, they predicted that their habitat would shrink over the next century. Baobabs in the north would need to migrate even further north to find suitable growing conditions, but they may be out of luck. As they reach the northern coast, they’ve nowhere else to go, concluding that some of Madagascar’s northernmost baobab species could disappear by 2100.

Scientists are collecting bits of baobab genetic material in hopes of finding certain traits, like drought tolerance, that might be bred into future trees. Other are searching for a diverse collection of baobab seeds to preserve the trees that have the best chance of bringing forests back to life in a changing world.

In creation myths, the baobab is known as the tree the gods planted upside down. Let's hope we will continue seeing them for decades to come...


Original post can be found here

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