Sanchez, Aida Cuni
Predicting suitable areas for cultivation and conservation of the baobab tree and investigating superior sources of planting material.
University of Southampton, School of Civil Engineering,
The baobab tree (Adansonia digitata L.), with more than 300 uses and commercial value in EU and US, has been identified as one of the most important edible savannah trees to be conserved, domesticated and valorised in Africa. A decline in baobab populations due to overexploitation and/or changes in climate could have a significant negative effect on African livelihoods. Therefore, it is important to determine potential strategies for conservation and cultivation. The present and potential future distributions of the baobab tree were studied using Maxent niche modelling framework. And, in order to contribute to the selection of superior materials for cultivation, fruit morphology was studied in situ (in Malawi and Mali) while leaf and seedling morphology were studied in situ (in Benin and Malawi) and in a greenhouse experiment. Maxent modelling suggests that predicted changes in climate will have a negative effect on baobab tree distribution in Africa: only a percentage of the present distribution was predicted to be suitable in the future. Some countries were found not to have any suitable habitats for the baobab tree in the future. Several conservation strategies are recommended, such as in situ conservation in Protected Areas; ex situ conservation in Seed Banks and conservation through ‘sustainable utilisation’. Modelling results also showed that the baobab tree could be widely cultivated in most countries in south-eastern Africa and in the Sudano-Sahelian zone of West Africa. India, north-west Australia, Madagascar, north-east Brazil and Mexico could be other suitable places for cultivating the baobab tree outside Africa. Although results from modelling should be validated with in situ seedling experiments, there seems to be potential for the wide cultivation of this species. Significant differences in leaf, fruit and seedling morphology were observed between Benin, Mali and Malawi and also within each country. While some characteristics were correlated with environmental differences between study sites, others might be genetically determined. It seems that genetic and physiological effects play a role in baobab fruit, leaf and seedling morphology. Thus, there is room for selecting high quality baobab planting materials
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