Quantcast

Plant Extinction Is Happening 500x Faster Than Before the Industrial Revolution

Popular
Cyanea superba, endemic to the island of Oahu and now extinct in the wild. David Eickhoff / CC BY 2.0

Researchers have found that nearly 600 plant extinctions have taken place over the last two and a half centuries, according to a new paper published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.


The 571 proven plant extinctions lost since 1753 is twice the number of animal species lost in the same time frame and nearly four times as many plants lost as botanists recently estimated. The researchers with the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK and Stockholm University also noted that many plant species disappeared without anyone ever knowing about them, pushing the true number of extinctions much higher.

The extinction rate — 500 times greater now than before the Industrial Revolution — is also quite alarming, according to The Guardian. This number, too, is likely an underestimate.

"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," said Aelys Humphreys, Ph.D., of Stockholm University, the BBC reported.

The paper documented all known plant extinctions in the world, finding that most lost plants were in the tropics and on islands. The researchers created a map that showed South Africa, Australia, Brazil, India, Madagascar and Hawaii as particular hotspots for plant extinction, according to The Guardian.

So what's causing the rapid rate of plant extinction? The main culprit is human activity like clear cutting forests for timber and converting land into fields for agriculture.

The researchers note that their paper also shows what lessons can be learned to stop future extinctions.

"Plants underpin all life on Earth," said Eimear Nic Lughadha, Ph.D., at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who was part of the research team, as The Guardian reported. "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."

Life on Earth relies on plants for oxygen and food. And, the extinction of one plant can lead to cascading effects that threaten to harm other species that rely on the plant for food or for a place to lay eggs, the BBC reports.

"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 programs targeting other organisms as well," Nic Lughadha said, as the BBC reported.

The researchers highlighted steps to slow down plant extinctions including, recording all plants in the world, preserving specimens, funding botanists and educating children to recognize local plants, according to the BBC.

The research comes on the heels of other grim reports that have highlighted the destruction humans have caused. Last month, a UN report said that one million of Earth's eight million plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A vegan diet can improve your health, but experts say it's important to keep track of nutrients and protein. Getty Images

By Dan Gray

  • Research shows that 16 weeks of a vegan diet can boost the gut microbiome, helping with weight loss and overall health.
  • A healthy microbiome is a diverse microbiome. A plant-based diet is the best way to achieve this.
  • It isn't necessary to opt for a strictly vegan diet, but it's beneficial to limit meat intake.

New research shows that following a vegan diet for about 4 months can boost your gut microbiome. In turn, that can lead to improvements in body weight and blood sugar management.

Read More Show Less
Students gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC, Sept. 20. NRDC

By Jeff Turrentine

Nearly 20 years have passed since the journalist Malcolm Gladwell popularized the term tipping point, in his best-selling book of the same name. The phrase denotes the moment that a certain idea, behavior, or practice catches on exponentially and gains widespread currency throughout a culture. Having transcended its roots in sociological theory, the tipping point is now part of our everyday vernacular. We use it in scientific contexts to describe, for instance, the climatological point of no return that we'll hit if we allow average global temperatures to rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But we also use it to describe everything from resistance movements to the disenchantment of hockey fans when their team is on a losing streak.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
samael334 / iStock / Getty Images

By Ruairi Robertson, PhD

Berries are small, soft, round fruit of various colors — mainly blue, red, or purple.

Read More Show Less
A glacier is seen in the Kenai Mountains on Sept. 6, near Primrose, Alaska. Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have been studying the glaciers in the area since 1966 and their studies show that the warming climate has resulted in sustained glacial mass loss as melting outpaced the accumulation of new snow and ice. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

By Mark Mancini

On Aug. 18, Iceland held a funeral for the first glacier lost to climate change. The deceased party was Okjökull, a historic body of ice that covered 14.6 square miles (38 square kilometers) in the Icelandic Highlands at the turn of the 20th century. But its glory days are long gone. In 2014, having dwindled to less than 1/15 its former size, Okjökull lost its status as an official glacier.

Read More Show Less
Members of Chicago Democratic Socialists of America table at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18. Alex Schwartz

By Alex Schwartz

Among the many vendors at the Logan Square Farmers Market on Aug. 18 sat three young people peddling neither organic vegetables, gourmet cheese nor handmade crafts. Instead, they offered liberation from capitalism.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
StephanieFrey / iStock / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Muffins are a popular, sweet treat.

Read More Show Less
Hackney primary school students went to the Town Hall on May 24 in London after school to protest about the climate emergency. Jenny Matthews / In Pictures / Getty Images

By Caroline Hickman

Eco-anxiety is likely to affect more and more people as the climate destabilizes. Already, studies have found that 45 percent of children suffer lasting depression after surviving extreme weather and natural disasters. Some of that emotional turmoil must stem from confusion — why aren't adults doing more to stop climate change?

Read More Show Less
Myrtle warbler. Gillfoto / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Bird watching in the U.S. may be a lot harder than it once was, since bird populations are dropping off in droves, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less