A Third of African Tropical Plants at Risk of Extinction

A Third of African Tropical Plants at Risk of Extinction

Almost 7000 plant species native to parts of Africa are facing extinction and threatens the earth’s biodiversity according to a recent study published in Science Advances. Dr. Thomas Couvrer of the French National Institute for Sustainable Development lead the study that assessed the status of over 20 000 plant species with about 30% at an almost irreversible survival status. The biggest danger that these plants face are human activities such as deforestation, land-use changes, economic development, population growth, and ultimately, climate change. Researchers see the results of this study as a dire wakeup call for action to be taken to protect the earth’s many natural plant species.

The Plant Study’s Method

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes the official assessment of species in The Red List of Threatened Species. The study done by Couvrer et al used a similar, but more efficient method to conduct the assessments. Using a new algorithm incorporating all of the relevant data, the team was able to classify 17% of the plant species in tropical Africa under threat and 14% as potentially threatened.

This algorithm offers a new, automatic method to determine the conservation status of plants over a large area. In this case specifically, the rainforests of western Africa and the Ethiopian highlands hold a large part of the threatened species. Its automation provides a way to provide important data that will direct the actions necessary to protect the plants from extinction.

Just the Tip of Rainforest Problems

The research team and the IUCN have only assessed 8% of all plant species worldwide. In contrast, about 86% of mammals and 61% of birds of the world have been studied. The new algorithm can help speed the process to determine the conservation status of the estimated 35 200 other plant species in the world. Knowing the status of as many species as possible will shave time off reversing the effects of human intervention on natural species.

The Ecological Issues of Plant Extinction

Since the Industrial Revolution, 571 plant species have been completely wiped out. Without any direct action, thousands more will be gone, seriously impacting global biodiversity. Greater biodiversity benefits humans since in areas with more biodiversity, there is less disease. Additionally, these plants absorb carbon dioxide and release the oxygen that is clearly vital to the survival of the human population.

It’s Not Too Late

Though the results of this study are grim, Dr. Couvrer says there is still a chance to reverse the negative effects on plant species so that they can survive. In a time where climate change is precariously close to eliminating important natural resources, governments or other entities in power must use the data gleaned with this algorithm to set proper changes.

As always, this is easier said than done. Ecological issues move slowly due to the obstacle geo-political tensions among countries. As it gets harder to ignore the scientific data and strong urges from the community and deny climate change, it will be too late to conserve species and will have permanent effects to everyone and everything on earth.

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