A global analysis of the extinction risk for the world’s plants has found that more than a fifth of all plant species on Earth are threatened with extinction. This is the first time the true extent of the threat to the estimated 380,000 plant species has been revealed.
The research was conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew together with the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and announced as governments are to meet in Nagoya, Japan in mid-October 2010 to set new targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit.
“This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss,” said The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper.
“For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world’s known plants. This report shows the most urgent threats and the most threatened regions. In order to answer crucial questions like how fast are we losing species and why, and what we can do about it, we need to establish a baseline so that we have something against which to measure change. The Sampled Red List Index for Plants does exactly that by assessing a large sample of plant species that are collectively representative of all the world’s plants.”
The study revealed:
- About one third of the species (33%) in the sample are insufficiently known to carry out a conservation assessment. This demonstrates the scale of the task facing botanists and conservation scientists — many plants are so poorly known that we still don’t know if they are endangered or not
- Of almost 4,000 species that have been carefully assessed, over one fifth (22%) are classed as Threatened
- Plants are more threatened than birds, as threatened as mammals and less threatened than amphibians or corals
- Gymnosperms (the plant group including conifers and cycads) are the most threatened group
- The most threatened habitat is tropical rain forest.
- Most threatened plant species are found in the tropics
- The most threatening process is man-induced habitat loss, mostly the conversion of natural habitats for agriculture or livestock use
Discussions in Nagoya
“The 2020 biodiversity target that will be discussed in Nagoya is ambitious, but in a time of increasing loss of biodiversity it is entirely appropriate to scale up our efforts,” Hopper added. “Plants are the foundation of biodiversity and their significance in uncertain climatic, economic and political times has been overlooked for far too long.”
“We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear — plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we. Having the tools and knowledge to turn around loss of biodiversity is now more important than ever and the Sampled Red List Index for Plants gives conservationists and scientists one such tool.”
“This report comes at an important time in the lead up to the major international biodiversity meeting in Nagoya next month” said Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman. “It is deeply troubling that a fifth of the world’s plants are facing extinction because of human activity. Plant life is vital to our very existence, providing us with food, water, medicines, and the ability to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”
“We must take steps now to avoid losing some of these important species and the UK will show leadership as we look to make progress towards a framework for tackling the loss of the Earth’s plant and animal species.”
Source: Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
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