Plants that aren’t useful to humans face faster extinction
Plants that people do not need will be pushed to extinction, according to a new study. The paper, published in the journal Plants, People, Planet, found that plants rarely used by humans are being pushed to extinction faster than those used often. This situation threatens biodiversity.
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John Kress, former botany curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the paper’s lead author, said extinction is already happening. Kress explained his study focused on determining what plants will survive the Anthropocene (the current geological era, largely influenced by human action).
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“We’re actually beginning to quantify what’s going to make it through the bottleneck of the Anthropocene, in terms of numbers,” Kress said. “It’s not the future, it’s happening. The bottleneck is starting to happen right now. And I think that’s part of the wake-up call that we are trying to give here. It’s something we might be able to slow down a little bit, but it’s happening.”
The study covered less than 30% of all known plant species worldwide. Researchers analyzed over 86,592 vascular plant species and used information from global databases. The study’s key focuses included the economic importance of the plants, their extinction threat and protection efforts.
Research identified 6,749 plants often used by humans that are thus less prone to extinction. Among the winners are corn, rice and wheat. These crops cover 40% of the Earth. The researchers also found some plant species extinct in the wild but surviving in cities. For instance, ginkgo trees live on many New York City streets but are extinct in the wild.
Additionally, researchers found 164 plant species likely to survive even though not helpful to humans. This includes invasive weed species such as kudzu.
Despite the dire findings, professor Richard Corlett at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (not involved in the study) says conservation efforts could help. “How many people can name a threatened plant?” said Corlett. “Plant conservation is not like animal conservation, where we continue to lose species despite efforts to save them. In plant conservation, there are no hopeless cases, at least in regards to extinction.”
Via The Guardian