Extinction threat to 1 in 5 of world's plants

29 September 2010

A global analysis of extinction risk for the world's plants has revealed that the world’s plants are as threatened as mammals, with 1 in 5 of the world’s plant species threatened with extinction.

The study was conducted by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Natural History Museum, London and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

It 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. 

The study is announced as governments are to meet in Nagoya, Japan in mid-October 2010 to set new targets at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit.

Scientists carried out the Sampled Red List Index assessments on a representative sample of the world’s plants, in response to the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity and the 2010 Biodiversity Target. 

The research used botanical information held in Kew’s Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, which includes 8 million preserved plant and fungal specimens; the Natural History Museum’s extensive herbarium of 6 million specimens; digital data from other sources and collaboration with Kew’s network of partners worldwide. 

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew’s Director, Professor Stephen Hopper, says, 'This study confirms what we already suspected, that plants are under threat and the main cause is human induced habitat loss.

'Plants are the foundation of biodiversity and their significance in uncertain climatic, economic and political times has been overlooked for far too long.'

Dr Neil Brummitt, leading the Sampled Red List Index for Plants at the Natural History Museum said, ‘All our efforts will have been worthwhile if the world’s leaders can now be galvanised into taking significant steps towards reducing the current rate of loss of biodiversity. 

'The Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya in October is the time and the place to take these steps. If we are to prevent the planet’s sixth mass extinction then we need to act together, and act quickly – globalisation needs to be ecological as well as economic.’

Big Nature Debate

In the run up to the Nagoya conference, a panel of experts will be discussing biodiversity loss in the Big Nature Debate on 7 October at the Natural History Museum. The event will be streamed live online from 15:30 to 16:20 and key outcomes will be passed on to the government.

What questions would you like to ask the panel? You can have your say and let leaders know biodiversity is important to you as your comments, questions and views will form a central part of this discussion.

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