The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Why Wild Plant Ancestors Need Protection
By Tim Radford
Only a small percentage of the wild plant ancestors vital to human life can be considered safe from extinction.
Botanists who have monitored the conservation status of almost 7,000 species—the wild forerunners of plants that humans use for food, medicine, shelter, fuel and livestock feed—found that most could be counted as not properly conserved and protected.
And another wild plant—perhaps the most valuable of all at price per measured weight—could be eliminated for ever by climate change driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels. The prized Mediterranean truffle may disappear from the woodlands of France, Spain and Italy by 2100, according to a separate study.
All the world's most important crops are selected, bred and cultivated from wild ancestors: these original forerunners remain a significant reservoir of genes that could be important to a species' survival.
But when researchers came to measure progress in global conservation goals, they found that only three species in 100 could be counted as "sufficiently conserved."
Many of these wild originals are of global commercial importance. They include the wild relatives of billion-dollar crops such as coffee, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and even the little fir most favored in Europe as a Christmas tree.
Colin Khoury, a specialist in biodiversity at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia, and colleagues report in the journal Ecological Indicators that they drew on some of the 43 million records of 6,941 plants of socio-economic importance or cultural value—in effect, plants that make money for people—in 220 countries.
Under UN sustainable development guidelines, and as targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity, the nations of the world agreed to meet a series of ambitious conservation goals by 2020.
The scientists devised a Useful Plants Indicator which sorted wild crop ancestors into their status as conserved species in national parks or protected forests, and as specimens in gene banks, botanical gardens and so on.
Coffee in Peril
They found that the wild coffee plants Coffea liberica and Coffea arabica were far from safe, and 32 other coffee species were also rated as nowhere near sufficiently protected: two thirds of the coffee species were not recorded in gene banks at all.
Much the same was true for Theobroma cacao, the wild ancestor of the chocolate of the tropical Americas, the flavoring bean Vanilla planiofolia and the wild spice cinnamon, or Cinnamomum verra. Unexpectedly, the fir Abies nordmanniana, alias the Nordmann fir or Christmas tree, is in an even more precarious situation in the wild: the researchers rate it as one of the high priority species for conservation.
Some of the species were—for the time being—protected in national parks but not collected safely in gene banks and botanical gardens. But as the world warms, and climates change, the species may have to shift their range into landscapes at hazard from ecosystem disruption.
"The indicator shows that the network of protected areas around the world is doing something significant for useful plants," Khoury said. "But if we want to get serious about protecting these species, especially the ones that are vulnerable, we have a long way to go before they are fully protected."
Meanwhile, the truffle species Tuber melanosporum—trading at more than £1,000 (US$1,300) per kilogram—could be lost to commerce within a generation or two: a new study in the journal Science of the Total Environment found that under the most likely global warming scenarios the climate of its native habitat will become warmer and drier, and production of the wild and farmed species could dwindle by between 78 percent and 100 percent between 2071 and 2100.
Paul Thomas, of the University of Stirling, who has already tested black truffle plantations in Scotland, studied 36 years of truffle harvest records to reach his bleak conclusion.
He warns that the collapse of the truffle harvest could happen even earlier, thanks to the heatwaves, forest fires, droughts, pests and diseases that come with climate change. Europe risks losing an industry worth hundreds of millions along with an iconic species and a regional way of life.
"This is a wake-up call to the impacts of climate change in the not-too-distant future," Thomas said. "These findings indicate that conservational initiatives are required to form some protection of this important and iconic species."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
- What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us? | News | The ... ›
- All by Itself, the Humble Sweet Potato Colonized the World - The ... ›
- Wild coffee plants, Christmas trees and chocolate's tree are ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
‘Companies Should Not Be Allowed to Use Hazardous Ingredients in Products People Use’: Michelle Pfeiffer Speaks Up for Safer Cosmetics
The beauty products we put on our skin can have important consequences for our health. Just this March, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that some Claire's cosmetics had tested positive for asbestos. But the FDA could only issue a warning, not a recall, because current law does not empower the agency to do so.
Michelle Pfeiffer wants to change that.
The actress and Environmental Working Group (EWG) board member was spotted on Capitol Hill Thursday lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a bill that would increase oversight of the cosmetics industry, The Washington Post reported.
By Julia Conley
Scientists at the United Nations' intergovernmental body focusing on biodiversity sounded alarms earlier this month with its report on the looming potential extinction of one million species — but few heard their calls, according to a German newspaper report.
The climate crisis is a major concern for American voters with nearly 40 percent reporting the issue will help determine how they cast their ballots in the upcoming 2020 presidential election, according to a report compiled by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Of more than 1,000 registered voters surveyed on global warming, climate and energy policies, as well as personal and collective action, 38 percent said that a candidate's position on climate change is "very important" when it comes to determining who will win their vote. Overall, democratic candidates are under more pressure to provide green solutions as part of their campaign promises with 64 percent of Democrat voters saying they prioritize the issue compared with just 34 percent of Independents and 12 percent of Republicans.
President Donald Trump has agreed to sign a $19.1 billion disaster relief bill that will help Americans still recovering from the flooding, hurricanes and wildfires that have devastated parts of the country in the past two years. Senate Republicans said they struck a deal with the president to approve the measure, despite the fact that it did not include the funding he wanted for the U.S.-Mexican border, CNN reported.
"The U.S. Senate has just approved a 19 Billion Dollar Disaster Relief Bill, with my total approval. Great!" the president tweeted Thursday.
"There was a lot of devastation throughout the state," Governor Mike Parson said at a Thursday morning press conference, as NPR reported. "We were very fortunate last night that we didn't have more injuries than what we had, and we didn't have more fatalities across the state. But three is too many."