MADRID – The climate crisis has hit plants as well as animals with some 600 species already extinct, more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians combined.
For the first time in history scientists from the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew and Stockholm University have assessed the number of plants that have ceased to exist on the planet over the course of 250 years.
Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, Co-author and Conservation Scientist at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said: “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.
“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.”
According to experts, 571 species have been wiped off the Earth.
The final figure was calculated based on data from publications spanning three decades and proved to be four times more than what the current listing of extinct plants was thought to be.
Aelys M Humphreys, co-author and assistant professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University, said: “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.
“We hear a lot about the number of species facing extinction, but these figures are for plants that we’ve already lost, to provide an unprecedented window into plant extinction in modern times.”
The alarming findings also place the extinction of plants as a far more accelerated pattern when compared to the number of extinct birds, mammals and amphibians which combined stand at 217 species.
“Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant,” Humphreys said.
The scientists said the data rang alarm bells as it appears the rate of extinction of plants is 500 times faster than “natural” background rates of extinction – the rate of loss of species on the planet prior to human intervention.
The most affected areas were found to be on islands, primarily in the tropics, and in the Mediterranean.
The research suggests that the location of plants is more important than identity in order to predict extinction rates, and this could be instrumental in mitigating extinction risks and the protection of biodiversity.