GREEN
12/22/2011 12:17 am ET

Frankincense Future Dim As Boswellia Tree Populations Rapidly Decline, Study Says

Bad news for the three wise men: The future of frankincense production doesn't look promising.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Ecology suggests that Boswellia populations, trees from which frankincense is harvested, are declining at such a rapid rate that the production of the aromatic resin will be reduced by half in about 15 years.

Researchers say the rapid decline of Boswellia populations can be attributed to a number of things:

Many populations of B. papyrifera are threatened by conversion into agricultural land and present a hump-shaped population distribution, dominated by small seedlings and adult trees but lacking the sapling and treelet stages. This gap in the population structure may be caused by the low production and viability of seeds of tapped trees, recurrent droughts, increased fire frequency, uncontrolled livestock grazing or a combination of all of these.

Scientists are fairly confident that tapping trees to harvest resin is not to blame for the population's degeneration.

"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 longhorn beetle, which lays its eggs under the bark of the tree," said study researcher Frans Bongers, according to LiveScience.

Ten types of Boswellia trees are currently on the Red List of Threatened Species, Scientific American points out.

Researchers suggest better forest management is the key to restoring Boswellia populations in order to continue frankincense production in the future.

Flickr photo courtesy of aleutia.

For more on the story, watch the video report below:

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