Global survey finds 'frightening' rate of plant extinctions

Researchers found 571 species had been wiped out in under three centuries

Pedra da Gavea mountain seen from The Tijuca Forest,  a mountainous hand-planted rainforest in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Tijuca Forest is home to hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, many threatened by extinction. Getty Images
Pedra da Gavea mountain seen from The Tijuca Forest,  a mountainous hand-planted rainforest in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Tijuca Forest is home to hundreds of species of plants and wildlife, many threatened by extinction. Getty Images

The planet’s seed-bearing species have been dying off at a rate of three per year since the start of the 20th century, a “frightening” rate of extinction, according to scientists who have conducted a global survey of human destruction on nature. The researchers discovered that at least 571 species have been totally wiped out since 1750.

We suffer from plant blindness. Animals are cute, important and diverse but I am absolutely shocked how a similar level of awareness and interest is missing for plants.

Dr Maria Vorontsova

The rate of extinction is now 500 times greater now than before the industrial revolution, and 500 times more than would be expected as a result of natural forces alone.

“It is way more than we knew and way more than should have gone extinct,” Dr Maria Vorontsova, a researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew who helped to conduct the survey, told The National.

“It is frightening not just because of the 571 number but because I think that is a gross underestimate.”

The report, published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution journal on Monday, examined more than 330,000 species.

Plants present on islands and in the tropics were most vulnerable to extinction, it said.

The areas of the world with the most extinctions revealed Hawaii to be most at risk, with 79 recorded extinctions. The Cape areas of South Africa was second with 37. Australia, India, Madagascar and Brazil followed.

Most of the extinctions have been caused by human activity, such as logging and the conversions of land into farming fields.

The scientists believe the study will aid conservationists in the future, highlighting species that have been lost and how to save those that remain.

“We suffer from plant blindness," Ms Vorontsova said.

"Animals are cute, important and diverse but I am absolutely shocked how a similar level of awareness and interest is missing for plants. We take them for granted and I don’t think we should."

Updated: June 11, 2019 05:48 PM

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