September 29, 2010

Study: One-Fifth Of World’s Plant Life Facing Extinction

More than one-fifth of the world's plant population could face the threat of extinction, according to research released by British researchers and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Wednesday.

The Sampled Red List Index for Plants, a study conducted by experts from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; the Natural History Museum, London; and the IUCN, found that of the 4,000 species that they were able to carefully examine, 22-percent could be classified as threatened, due mostly to loss of habitat.

Furthermore, they discovered that the habitat most at risk is the tropical rain forest, and most of the threatened plant species were from the tropical region, they said in a press release dated September 28. However, nearly a third of the species that they collected could not be assessed, simply because the scientists did not know enough about them to determine whether or not they were endangered.

"The study is a major baseline for plant conservation and is the first time that the true extent of the threat to the world's estimated 380,000 plant species is known, announced as governments are to meet in Nagoya, Japan in mid-October 2010 to set new targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit," the press release noted, adding that plants were more threatened than birds and equally as threatened as mammals.

"This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss," Stephen Hopper, the director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said in a statement. "For the first time we have a clear global picture of extinction risk to the world's known plants. This report shows the most urgent threats and the most threatened regions."

"In order to answer crucial questions like how fast are we losing species and why, and what we can do about it, we need to establish a baseline so that we have something against which to measure change," he added. "The Sampled Red List Index for Plants does exactly that by assessing a large sample of plant species that are collectively representative of all the world's plants."

The Sampled Red List Index project, which is being overseen by the Institute of Zoology at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), is described in the press release as a random representative sample of the world's plants, including those who are not believed to be threatened. More than 300 different organizations in the UK are supporting the program.

"We cannot sit back and watch plant species disappear," Hopper said. "Plants are the basis of all life on earth, providing clean air, water, food and fuel. All animal and bird life depends on them and so do we. Having the tools and knowledge to turn around loss of biodiversity is now more important than ever and the Sampled Red List Index for Plants gives conservationists and scientists one such tool."


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