A Fifth of the World's Plant Life Is Endangered
As usual, the future is looking pretty bleak.
According to the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens' State of the World Plants report, 20% of the earth's plant species are currently at risk of extinction. But climate change — which the report says affects more than 10% of the planet's "vegetative surfaces" due to their sensitivity to "climatic variability" and can severely disrupt ecosystems — is just one of many factors contributing the death of plant life.
Invasive species like the Bermuda cedar, the Australian pine and Japanese knotweed bear a huge brunt of the responsibility for what's known as biodiversity loss, "a reduction of native plant species richness and abundance following invasion." Meanwhile, plant diseases cause 16% of yearly crop yield losses, along with other viral, fungal and bacterial pathogens, many of which were reported for the first time in 59 countries between 2010 and 2015.
But it's not all bad: In 2015 alone, 2,034 new plant species were discovered, and some that were previously thought to be extinct have even made a reappearance. Scientists are also getting a better understanding of what plants' genomes look like, which will help them more easily identify other new species.
"We now know that an understanding of evolutionary relationships in the Plant Tree of Life can greatly accelerate the discovery of new taxa, particularly in less well-known groups," the report's authors wrote, adding that it "can act as a sign-post for discovering additional species of relevance to human wellbeing, impacting medicines, foods, biofuels and fibers."
There's hope yet.