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OVERTURNING the origin story of the ''upside-down'' trees : Baobabs are one of the most charismatic trees on Earth, thanks in part to their unusual appearance.

Their cartoonishly thick trunks are conspicuously oversized relative to their diminutive crowns, earning them the nickname '' up-side-down trees.''

They can also live for thousands of years, contributing to their prominent place in cultural traditions and works of art.

For all the tales told about the baobabs, though, their origin story has remained a mystery.

Scientists have debated for years how baobabs wound up in the places where they grow. Eight species exist around the world, and their distribution, like the trees themselves, is unusual :

One species occurs across much of mainland Africa, while six are in Madagascar. The last is found faraway, in northwestern Australia.

Most researchers have hypothesized that the trees originated on mainland Africa. But findings published in the journal Nature tell a different story. Baobabs instead most likely first evolved in Madagascar, where they diversified into different species.

Two then embarked on oceanic journeys to distant continents.

'' Madagascar is this wonderful natural laboratory,'' said Tao Wan, a botanist at the Wuhan Botanical Garden of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and an author of the new study.

He added, '' In the case of baobabs, some very special geographical history on the island contributed species'  diversity.'' Dr. Wan and his colleagues sequenced the genomes of all eight baobab species and then used those data to study their evolution.

They also investigated ecological factors that influenced the distribution of baobabs around Madagascar.

Their results indicate that baobabs' common ancestor most likely arose in Madagascar around 21 million years ago.

Competition with other plant life and factors like altitude, temperature, precipitation and volcanic activity caused new baobab species to emerge across Madagascar, as did fluctuating sea levels during various ice ages.

Baobabs probably also evolved a mutualistic relationship with lemurs that served as pollinators. Other relatively large animals, including fruit-eating bats and bush babies in Africa, began visiting baobabs'  nocturnal flowers for nectar.

'' One of the evolutionary innovations of baobabs was to exploit large, sugar-eating animals,'' said Andrew Leitch, a plant geneticist at Queen Mary University of London, and an author of the study. '' That's an unusual thing for a plant to do.''

At some point, perhaps 12 million years ago, two species of Malagasy baobabs found their way to mainland Africa and Australia, where they evolved into the trees that grow there today.

Most likely, multiple baobab seeds hitched rides as vegetation was transported by the Indian Ocean gyre, a current that circulates counterclockwise between Australia, South Asia and the eastern coast of Africa - exemplifying the species' '' fascinating and extraordinary long distance dispersal patterns,'' Dr. Leitch said.

The Honour and Serving of the Latest Global Operational Research on Evolution and Journeys continues. The World Students Society thanks Rachel Nuwer.

With most respectful dedication to Mankind, Leaders, and then Students, Professors and Teachers of the world.

See You all  prepare for Great Global Elections on The World Students Society - the eternal and exclusive ownership of every student in the World - [ and for every subject ] : wssciw.blogspot.com and Twitter X !E-WOW! - The Ecosystem 2011 :

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