Nearly 600 plant species have become extinct in the last 250 years

12 Juin, 2019, 01:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The Chilean crocus

Nearly 600 plant species have gone extinct in the last 250 years, which is twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians to have disappeared from the Earth in the same period combined, according to a new study.

Scientists, including experts from The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, discovered that 571 species had disappeared in the wild since the middle of the 18th century.

One plant - the banded trinity - has not been seen since turning up in a field in Chicago in 1916.

"Plants underpin all life on Earth, they provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, as well as making up the backbone of the world's ecosystems - so plant extinction is bad news for all species", said Dr. Eimear Nic Lughadha, the study's co-author and a Kew conservation scientist.

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.

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.

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

Dr Aelys M Humphreys, assistant professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University, said: 'Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant. "Every species that becomes extinct is supporting other organisms that also become extinct at the same time, and many we don't even know about before it happens", says Govaerts.

It identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers of the crisis, with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years. "This new understanding of plant extinction will help us predict (and try to predict) future extinctions of plants, as well as other organisms".

Scientists called the results alarming as millions of other species depend on plants for their survival.

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

"Plants make the infrastructure of ecosystems as well as give everybody food and air".

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