Plants driven to extinction at twice rate of mammals, birds and amphibians

James Marshall
Июня 11, 2019

Twice as many plants have been driven to extinction over the past 250 years than all the birds, mammals and amphibians combined, a 30-year research project has found.

The Chile sandalwood, Santalum fernandezianum, once grew in abundance on the Juan Fernandez Islands, between Chile and Easter Island, but was exploited for its aromatic properties.

Around two species of plants go extinct every year - although the true figure is likely to be even higher as plants may be disappearing before they are even discovered, the researchers said. Rafael Govaerts, a Kew botanist, spent 30 years reviewing publications on plant extinctions and found the number was four times more than now registered, with species disappearing at 500 times the natural rate.

Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few could name an extinct plant, said Dr Aelys Humphreys of Stockholm University.

"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. Looking at percentages, the situation is worse for mammals and birds; an estimated 5% of those species have gone extinct, compared with 0.2% of plants.

Published Monday in the journal Nature, Ecology & Evolution, the study states that 571 plants have been wiped from the face of the Earth and plants species are going extinct 500 times faster than the normal rate of loss without human intervention.

Hawaii stands out as having the most recorded extinctions, followed by the Cape provinces of South Africa and Mauritius, with Australia, Brazil, India and Madagascar also being among the top regions.

The biggest losses are on islands and in the tropics, which are home to highly valued timber trees and tend to be particularly rich in plant diversity.

"To stop plant extinction, we need to record all the plants across the world - the naming of new species is a critical piece of the puzzle in the wider push to prioritize conservation of our precious natural world for generations to come", co-author Maria S. Vorontsova said.

Plant extinctions can lead to a whole cascade of extinctions in other organisms that rely on them, for instance insects that use plants for food and for laying their eggs.

Commenting on the research, Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, said: 'Plants underpin and provide key resources to entire ecosystems worldwide. Understanding how much, where, and how plant species are being lost is of paramount importance, not only for ecologists but also for human societies.

"Plants make the infrastructure of ecosystems as well as give everybody food and air".

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