Scientists are predicting more than 75% of the world’s undescribed plants, those yet to be discovered, are already threatened with extinction and nearly half of all known flowering plant species could be under threat. This is according to the report, State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2023, published on Tuesday, October 10. This is an annual global overview of plants and fungi from scientists at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.
Dr. Matilda Brown, a Conservation Science Analyst at Kew, said, “We know that nearly half of all of our known species are at risk of extinction, 45%. And the ones we don’t know about, they’re even more at risk, we’re looking at three in four of undescribed species are at risk of extinction.”
The researchers looked at the relationship between extinction risk and the year a plant was described. They found that 77% of the species listed in 2020 were already under threat compared with plants described a century ago.
Describing the situation as grim, Dr. Brown added that it’s already increasing and that in five years time that proportion might be even higher,” Brown said.
Plants play a vital role in the biodiversity. From oxygen to rainfall, from food to habitat, in their absence, the ecology is doomed to collapse.
Kew scientists are now calling for all newly described species to be treated as threatened unless proven otherwise. “Think about half of our future medicines no longer being available to us because those species have gone extinct, that’s the level of threat and level of impact that it could have on humans in the future,” Brown said.
The first State of the World’s Plants report in 2016 warned one in five types of plant worldwide was at risk of extinction from threats such as farming and logging that are wrecking many natural habitats.
Around 2,000 plant species a year are still being discovered despite continuing habitat loss, where healthy ecosystems are destroyed for agriculture or construction.
Climate change is recognised as a threat to the natural world, but scientists say they simply don’t have the data to factor it into their assessment of the immediate dangers. The report says preserving plants in their natural habitats should be a global priority.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew nearly has 70,000 of the 350,000 vascular plants known to science along with more than 300 researchers collecting, studying and protecting the world’s plants, fungi and seeds to help understand and combat climate change and biodiversity loss.
(Input from Reuters)