Plant Extinction is Happening 500x Faster Than Before the Industrial Revolution

The St. Helena Olive, a tree that went extinct in 2003. Photo: Rebecca Cairns-Wicks

While we cover animal species extinctions a lot in ODP, but plants are also struggling to survive in a world that’s rapidly being altered by climate change. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, 600 plant extinctions have taken place of the past two and a half centuries. As the Guardian explained, “The number of plants that have disappeared from the wild is more than twice the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians combined. The new figure is also four times the number of extinct plants recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list.”

Surprise! Humans at Fault: Plant extinction today is occurring at a rate that is 500 times greater than before the Industrial Revolution–and the researchers warn that this number could be an understatement. Our activity such as clear-cutting forests for mining, logging and agriculture is the primary driver of this mass extinction. In fact, we’re killing so many plants that many of them may not have even been discovered before becoming extinct. 

A Unique Study: As the BBC reported this particular study conducted by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Stockholm University,

  • Is an analysis of all documented plant extinctions in the world shows what lessons can be learned to stop future extinctions.
  • Is also “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,” according to Dr. Aelys Humphreys of Stockholm University.

Dr. Humphreys also explained that “Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few could name an extinct plant.

Why it Matters: Plants are as the basis of most ecosystems, provide the air we breathe and also serve as a source of food for animals and humans. A sustained mass extinction of plants would have severe consequences for human life and can lead to extinctions of animals as well, such as insects that use plants for food and for laying their eggs. For now, we need to better understand which plants we’re losing and where they’re coming from so we can better manage our behavior and slow their extinction. Part of that management can result from the 30 by 30 plan which calls for 30% of the planet to be managed for nature by 2030—and for half the planet to be protected by 2050.

 

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