Africa’s Iconic Baobabs Are Dying, Including World's OIdest Flowering Tree
When researchers set out to investigate the structure, growth and age of Africa's iconic baobab trees—the largest and longest-living flowering trees in the world—they received a devastating surprise. Many of the oldest, largest baobabs were dead or dying.
The final study, published in Nature Plants Monday, reported that nine of the 13 oldest and five of the six largest African baobabs had entirely or partly died during the research period from 2005 to 2017. The oldest was 2,500 years old.
"It is definitely shocking and dramatic to experience during our lifetime the demise of so many trees with millennial ages," study co-author Adrian Patrut of the Babes-Bolyai University in Romania told AFP.
The researchers studied every known large African baobab in Africa, on islands off its coast or outside Africa for a total of more than 60 trees. All of the dying trees were found in the southern African countries of Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Namibia.
Baobabs survive the dry Savannah by storing water in their large trunks, but researchers thought conditions were now getting too dry even for them.
The cause of the trees' deaths was unknown, but was not attributed to disease, and the deaths of the oldest trees coincided with an uptick in mortality in other mature baobabs. The researchers therefore hypothesized that the impact of climate change on Southern Africa was to blame.
The researchers also found that baobabs are always multi-stemmed: They grow new stems as they age the way other trees sprout branches. Of the endangered old and large trees, four had seen all stems collapse and topple entirely, while six had seen only some of their stems collapse and die.
The report also memorialized the oldest, largest and most famous trees to die.
The oldest, Panke, was a sacred tree in Matabeleland North, Zimbabwe. At around 2,500 years old, it was not only the oldest baobab, but the oldest angiosperm, or flowering tree, in the world.
The largest, the Platland tree or Sunland baobab, was also probably the most visited and promoted tree in Africa. It had a total wood volume of 501 cubic meters (approximately 17,692.6 cubic feet) and was also the largest angiosperm. It was located in the Limpopo province of South Africa.
The most famous, the Chapman baobab, was located in Botswana's Makgadikgadi Pans. It was named for South African hunter James Chapman who visited it in 1852.
Baobabs are important to the ecosystems and cultures of Southern Africa. They provide nesting sites for birds, according to BBC News, and AFP reported that both animals and humans eat their fruit. Humans also boil their leaves for food and medicine and use the bark for rope, baskets, hats and cloth, AFP noted.
USDA Study Shows We’re Losing a Concerning Amount of Trees in Cities https://t.co/NpD32eUC9j @forestservice @fcscotland @forestethics— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525899618.0
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An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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