Nearly 600 plant species have gone extinct in last 250 years

Katie Ramirez
June 13, 2019

In the past 250 years, 571 plant species have gone extinct, according to a study published yesterday (June 10) in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

They found that plants growing in biodiverse areas, places with rapidly-growing human populations, tropical environments, and on islands are most likely to go extinct - meaning that humans need to do more to protect plant species in high-risk areas.

Compiling data from the literature, global databases, and museum specimens, Vorontsova and her colleagues surveyed more than 330,000 species to document the losses.

The lost plants include the Chile sandalwood, which was exploited for essential oils, the banded trinity plant, which spent much of its life underground, and the pink-flowered St Helena olive tree. "[The] results are enormously significant".

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.

Huge losses were concentrated on islands and in the tropics, as well as in Mediterranean climates.

"Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant", said co-author Aelys Humprheys. The new figure is also four times the number of extinct plants recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list.

He wrote about the experience on the Kew website, "I gathered data on all plant extinctions by screening relevant scientific publications since 1988, visits to herbaria, and field trips to search for plants declared extinct, which I made during my holidays".

"This understanding is the predominant time we now have a major level understanding of what vegetation have already change into extinct, where they have gotten disappeared from and the draw fast right here's occurring", she added.

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They say the findings should serve as a stark warning since all life on earth depends on plants to survive.

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Stockholm University analysed all plant extinction records worldwide to arrive at the figure.

It takes many years to be sure a plant has been wiped out, meaning there are many species awaiting formal confirmation.

The researchers, however, did find that 430 species once considered extinct have gone on to be rediscovered.

The culprit: Human destruction of natural habitats is seen as the main reason.

According to the United Nations, another 1 million species are now at risk of extinction. "Every species that becomes extinct is supporting other organisms that also become extinct at the same time, and many we don't even know about before it happens", says Govaerts.

Dr Rob Salguero-Gómez, of the University of Oxford, who was not part of the study, said understanding the how, where, and why of plant loss was of paramount importance, not only for ecologists but also for human societies.

"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", Dr. Humphreys explained.

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