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Plant Extinction Happening Faster Than We Thought

Emerging research suggests that plant species are going extinct at a rate nearly 500 times faster than previous estimates.

Disheartening new research has revealed roughly 571 seed-bearing plant species have gone extinct in the last 250 years. A number nearly four times higher than previous estimates. Not surprisingly, the majority of these extinctions have occurred on islands.  

Unfortunately, though plant species are going extinct 500 times faster than previously realized, Endangered plants rarely garner media attention. And they need it now, more than ever, as it is likely that the actual extinction rates are much higher as the current figures only account for species that have been observed and recorded. 

Rafaël Govaerts, a co-author of the study and a botanist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K., said: 

The real figure is undoubtedly higher, and a continued effort is underway to assess the threat status of each plant species.” 

Govaerts has determined that on average, two species have gone extinct per year over the last 250 years. This figure was determined by examining data from the IUCN Red List, research papers, and field work. In Australia, some of the most notable species at risk are within the Myrtaceae family which are being ravaged by the presence of the invasive myrtle rust; a fungal pathogen from South America. Another Myrtaceae species, the ‘Ohi’a tree, is at risk due to “rapid ‘Ohi’a death,” as a result of the fungal pathogen Ceratocystis fimbriata. 

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An up close view of the vibrant inflorescence of an ‘Ohi’a tree; a myrtle species endemic to Hawaii. Credit: jongela19

Though the outlook may seem bleak, this new knowledge can arm conservationists to come up with future management strategies and predict and hopefully extinctions before they happen. Aelys M. Humphreys, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at Stockholm University, said:  

This study is 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. We hear a lot about the number of species facing extinction, but these figures are for plants that we’ve already lost, so provide an unprecedented window into plant extinction in modern times.” 

Experts say the knowledge from the study could benefit future conservation efforts and assist in the development of targeted management plans. Though there is still much work to be done, it is a step in the right direction towards making a positive change and preventing future extinctions.  

Source: Mongabay
Featured photo: An ‘Ohi’a colonizing 30-year old basaltic lava flows from the active shield volcano Kīlauea in Kalapana, Hawaii. Credit: Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia Commons

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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