Plant extinction 'bad news for all species'

Federico Mansilla
Junio 12, 2019

Nearly 600 plant species have been wiped from the planet in the past 250 years, more than twice the number of bird, mammal and amphibian species that have met the same fate, according to a new study.

Scientists, including experts from The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, discovered that 571 species had disappeared in the wild since the middle of the 18th century.

Likewise the banded trinity was discovered in 1912 along Torrence Avenue in South Chicago but the site was destroyed just five years later and the plant was never seen again.

The number is based on actual extinctions rather than estimates, and is twice that of all bird, mammal and amphibian extinctions combined.

"Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant", says Aleys Humphreys, co-author of a gloomy new study on the fate of the planet's plants.

"This study is the first time we have an overview of what plants have already become extinct, where they have disappeared from and how quickly this is happening", she added.

A bright spot: Researchers also found that 430 species once considered extinct were subsequently rediscovered.

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According to the research, the extinction of seed plants is occurring at a faster rate than the normal turnover of the species.

It identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers of the crisis, with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.

However, the team also found that more species were alive than had been reported extinct. "This new understanding of plant extinction will help us predict (and try to predict) future extinctions of plants, as well as other organisms".

"Millions of other species depend on plants for their survival, humans included, so knowing which plants we are losing and from where, will feed back into conservation programmes targeting other organisms as well", she explained.

'However, much of the effort to quantify the loss of species diversity worldwide has focused on charismatic species such as mammals and birds.

"We depend on plants directly for food, shade and construction materials, and indirectly for "ecosystem services" such as carbon fixation, oxygen creation, and even improvement in human mental health through enjoying green spaces", he commented.

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