Infotainment

More than 500 species of plants have disappeared in 250 years

More than 500 species of plants have disappeared in 250 years
June 16 (Agencies) | Publish Date: 6/16/2019 11:54:34 AM IST

 The shocking number of plant species that have gone extinct in the past 250 years have been revealed by a new study.  

Experts found that 500 species - more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians recorded as extinct - are no longer found on Earth.

Around two species of plants go extinct every year - although the true figure is likely to be even higher as plants may be disappearing before they are even discovered, the researchers said.

Scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Stockholm University analysed all plant extinction records worldwide to arrive at the figure. One plant - the banded trinity - has not been seen since turning up in a field in Chicago in 1916.

Others include the Chile sandalwood, a tree that grew on the Juan Fernandez Islands between Chile and Easter island and was heavily exploited for its scent.

Another is the St Helena olive, first discovered in 1805 on the island of St Helena in the South Atlantic.

One lone elderly tree survived until 1994 and two more were propagated from cuttings, but they succumbed to a termite attack and fungal infections in 2003.

The research brought together data from fieldwork, literature and herbarium specimens.

It showed how many plant species have gone extinct, what they are, where they have disappeared from and what lessons can be learned to stop future extinction.

The study found that 571 plant species have disappeared in the last two and a half centuries - four times more than the current listing of extinct plants. The figure is also more than twice the number of birds, mammals and amphibians recorded as extinct - a combined total of 217 species.

Dr Aelys M Humphreys, assistant professor at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences at Stockholm University, said: ‘Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name an extinct plant’.

The scientists found that plant extinction is happening as much as 500 times faster than ‘natural’ background rates of extinction - the normal rate of loss in earth’s history before human intervention. Islands, areas in the tropics and areas with a Mediterranean climate were found to have the highest rates of extinction.

The research suggested that the increase in plant extinction rates could be due to the same factors that are documented as threats to many surviving plants - change of land use resulting in the fragmentation and destruction of native vegetation, particularly range-restricted species.

(Colin Fernandez science correspondent for the daily mail 

and Tim Collins for mailonline.)

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