Saturday, March 12, 2011

One in Five Plant Species Endangered

Posted by : Suzi Parrasch on
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One in five of the world's 380,000 plant species is threatened with extinction according to a study just released by Britain's Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London's Natural History Museum and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The study marks the first global analysis of the world's plants ever conducted, and scientists hope it will serve as a baseline to measure conservation efforts. The findings, which were based on data analyzed in a five-year study and complied into the Sampled Red List Index for Plants, found that 22% of species are endangered, critically endangered, or vulnerable. The report also said that tropical forests, such as Brazil's rainforests, are most at risk.

"The single greatest threat is conversion of natural habitats to agricultural use, directly impacting thirty three percent of threatened species," according to the report, which comes out in anticipation of a United Nations' Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, Japan scheduled for mid-October.

"This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss. For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world's known plants," Stephen Hopper, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens said in Science Daily. "The 2020 biodiversity target that will be discussed in Nagoya is ambitious, but in a time of increasing loss of biodiversity it is entirely appropriate to scale up our efforts. Plants are the foundation of biodiversity and their significance in uncertain climatic, economic and political times has been overlooked for far too long," he added.

"Present day human activities are pushing more plants towards extinction, but if the world's governments take the right steps ... we do have the potential to safeguard plant life and the creatures that depend on it," said Steve Bachman, a plant conservation analyst at Kew told Reuters.

According to Reuters: The study involved sampling about 7,000 plant species drawn from five major groups. Both common and rare plants species were assessed to try to give an accurate picture of how plants were faring around the world, the scientists said at a briefing for reporters. Researchers studied a random sample of about 1,500 species from each group, since assessing the threat to all the world's estimated 380,000 plant species would be too enormous a task.

"We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear -- plants are the basis of all life on Earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we," said Hopper.

"The diversity of plants underpins all life on earth, so it is sobering that our own species is threatening the survival of many thousands of plant species," said Neil Brummitt, a botanical diversity researcher at the Natural History Museum. "We've set the baseline. Now we need to all work together to safeguard not only the future of plants but the future of ourselves."

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