Mass plant extinction: A rising alarm for all species

More than 500 species of plants have disappeared in the past 250 years

More than 500 species of plants have disappeared in the past 250 years

But the first global analysis of its kind finds that twice as many plants have disappeared than birds, mammals, and amphibians combined.

"Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant", said Aelys M Humphreys, assistant professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University.

One lone elderly tree survived until 1994 and two more were propagated from cuttings, but they succumbed to a termite attack and fungal infections in 2003.

However, the researchers also discovered 430 plant species previously believed to have gone extinct, though 90 percent of them are considered "high extinction risk".

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.

"It's very bad. We're already past a runaway point".

Scientists say plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally.

However, the team also found that more species were alive than had been reported extinct.

Islands, areas in the tropics and areas with a Mediterranean climate were found to have the highest rates of extinction.

"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.

"'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".

'However, much of the effort to quantify the loss of species diversity worldwide has focused on charismatic species such as mammals and birds.

"We depend on plants directly for food, shade and construction materials, and indirectly for 'ecosystem services" such as carbon fixation, oxygen creation, and even improvement in human mental health through enjoying green spaces'.

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