London, Dec 21 (ANI): Ecologists have warned that the production of frankincense- used in incense and perfumes across the world and a key part of the Christmas story - could be reduced by half over the next 15 years as trees that produce the fragrant resin are declining dramatically.
The ecologists from the Netherlands and Ethiopia say tree numbers could decline by 90percent in the next 50 years.
If fire, grazing and insect attack - the most likely causes of the decline - remain unchecked frankincense production could be doomed, they warn.
Frankincense is obtained by tapping various species of Boswellia, a tree that grows in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula. Yet despite its economic importance - incense has been traded internationally for thousands of years - little is known about how tapping affects Boswellia populations.
Working in an isolated part of north-west Ethiopia near the source of the Blue Nile the team, led by Dr Frans Bongers of Wageningen University, studied 13 two-hectare plots, some where trees were tapped for frankincense and some where they were untapped.
Over two years, they monitored survival, growth and seed production of more than 6,000 Boswellia trees, collecting over 20,000 individual measurements.
They then used this data to construct demographic models capable of predicting the fate of Boswellia populations in coming years. Alarmingly, the model shows Boswellia populations are declining so dramatically that frankincense production could be halved in the next 15 years.
"Current management of Boswellia populations is clearly unsustainable. Our models show that within 50 years populations of Boswellia will be decimated, and the declining populations mean frankincense production is doomed. This is a rather alarming message for the incense industry and conservation organisations," said Dr Bongers.
Crucially, the researchers found all populations they studied are declining, not only those from tapped stands of trees, suggesting that factors other than tapping are at the root of the problem.
"Frankincense extraction is unlikely to be the main cause of population decline, which is likely to be caused by burning, grazing and attack by the long-horn beetle, which lays its eggs under the bark of the tree," stated Dr Bongers.
In the areas they studied, the team found that as well as high levels of mortality among adult trees, the older trees in the population were not being replaced because few Boswellia seedlings survived to become saplings.
The finding was published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology. (ANI)
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