Scientists Solve Mystery of Ancient ‘Tree of Life’

  • By Helen Briggs
  • Environment Correspondent

image source, Good pictures

image caption, Baobab is known as the “upside down tree” or “tree of life”.

Scientists have solved the mystery of the origin of ancient baobab trees.

According to DNA studies, small trees first appeared in Madagascar 41 million years ago.

Their seeds were then carried by ocean currents to Australia and mainland Africa, where they evolved into separate species.

Researchers are calling for more conservation efforts for the trees, which they say may be closer to extinction than previously thought.

Baobabs are known as the “tree of life” or “upside down tree” for their strange shapes and longevity. They are in trouble due to climate change and widespread deforestation.

image source, Good pictures

image caption, The African baobab grows throughout most of the continent

Dr Ilya Leitch of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, worked on the study with her husband Professor Andrew Leitch of Queen Mary University of London.

“We were able to pinpoint the origin of baobabs, an iconic keystone species that supports many different animals and plants and humans,” he told the BBC.

“And the data has enabled us to provide important new insights that will inform their conservation to secure their future.”

The researchers studied eight baobab species, six of which are found in Madagascar, one is widespread across Africa, and another is in northwestern Australia.

They claim high conservation status for two endangered Malagasy species, including the giant baobab, the largest and most famous of Madagascar’s baobabs.

image source, AlexAntonelli-RoyalBotanicalGardenscave

image caption, Fruits are large and berry-like

Baobabs are one of the most significant trees on Earth, deeply intertwined with local cultures and traditions.

They are known in Malagasy as “Mother of the Forest”, “Upside Down Tree” and “Tree of Life”.

Trees can live for thousands of years, grow large and store large amounts of water in their trunks to survive dry periods.

Their fruits are considered a superfood and their stems are used to make ropes or fibers used for clothing.

They produce large white flowers that open at dusk, attract bats as pollinators, which travel long distances to feed on their honey, and are important nesting sites for birds.

The research involved the collaboration of Wuhan Botanic Gardens (China), Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew, UK), University of Antananarivo (Madagascar) and Queen Mary University of London (UK).

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