More than 20% plant species threatened with extinction, study finds

After one year of extensive research and work and efforts from 80 scientists, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has come up with State of the World’s Plants report wherein it has been highlighted that 21 per cent of plants on Earth are threatened with extinction.

The report is a first of its kind and according to the scientists involved, it fills a huge gap that we have regarding our understanding about plants and calls upon scientists, governments, and members of the general public to work towards plant conservation and prudent use.

Through the report, the Botanic Gardens have revealed that we have at our disposal a whopping 391,000 vascular plants out of which which 369,000 are flowering plants. Further, thanks to the efforts of the scientific community as well as members of the general public in many cases, as many as 2000 new species of plants are discovered annually.

Talking about the usefulness of plants, the report highlights that we have already documented 31,000 plant species as far as their usage is concerned – medical, food, materials and so on – with 17,810 plants being used to medicinal purpose.

Based on the most up to date knowledge from around the world and compiled by The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the State of the World’s Plants report provides a baseline assessment of current knowledge on the diversity of plants on earth, the global threats plants face, the policies in place and their effectiveness in dealing with threats.

Experts at the Garden have taken into consideration a lot of data including naming and counting the world’s plants; new plant discoveries; plant evolutionary relationships and plant genomes; climate change; global land-cover change; invasive species; plant diseases – state of research; extinction risk and threats to plants among other things to come up with a comprehensive report that how plants are being ravaged by human activities, global warming and climate change.

The report not only shows the rate at which plants are becoming extinct, but also whether their status remains the same, or if they begin to repopulate. Further, scientists have also called for a need to focus on plants that will be useful in future – one of the set of plant species that could be very critical to food security are the wild relatives of crops, a pool of genetic variation that can help to drive the improvement of our crops into the future.

The study found “significant gaps” in the collection of DNA data and specimens from many parts of the world that would hinder efforts to preserve plant diversity in the face of changing climate and land-use patterns. It also seeks to pinpoint locations where botanists should focus collection efforts to boost food security and find plants that can adapt.