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  • Are Plants at Risk of Extinction?

Are Plants at Risk of Extinction?

Oct 10 2020 Read 405 Times

As much as 40% of all plant species are at risk of extinction, according to a new report compiled by 210 scientists from 42 countries. That’s double the percentage of endangered species found in a similar study from 2016 and spells grave news for humans, given that much of our subsistence and medicine relies on a foundation of the planet’s plant and fungal life.

On the plus side, the report’s authors believe that there are countless species of plants that have yet to be identified. If these can be located and assessed for their nutritional and medicinal qualities before they are allowed to vanish altogether, they could prove to be a vital resource in battling many of the greatest difficulties facing us today, including food security and even viral infections like COVID-19.

A race against time

Plants and fungi might command little of our attention on a day-to-day basis, but it’s an incontrovertible fact that they provide the basis upon which all other life depends for its survival. “We would be able not survive without plants and fungi – all life depends on them – and it is really time to open the treasure chest,” explained Prof Alexandre Antonelli, who participated in the recent report. “Every time we lose a species, we lose an opportunity for humankind. We are losing a race against time as we are probably losing species faster than we can find and name them.”

At present, there are approximately 350,000 species of plant known to man. However, a tiny fraction of that total has been assessed for how it might contribute to our understanding of medicine, meaning there is huge potential even among the species of which we are already aware. Locating new ones – and using sophisticated scientific techniques to reveal their secrets – could hold the key to overcoming deadly diseases such as the coronavirus.

Lending nature a helping hand

The encouraging news is that more than 4,000 new species were discovered last year, demonstrating the sheer quantity of flora on the planet which remains unknown to us. However, the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew – which led the recent report – indicated that 571 species had officially been lost since 1750, with the real figure believed to be far higher than that estimate. The main reasons for their extinction were loss of habitat due to agriculture and industry, but pollution, invasive species and disruption brought on by climate change were also chief contributing factors.

In order to preserve the rich biodiversity that Mother Nature offers, it’s urgent that we put the brakes on our pillaging of her resources, and instead invest time, energy and capital into undoing the damage we’ve already wrought. Technology can be leveraged to help in this respect: the use of drones to pollinate plants, the advent of vertical farming and other forms of precision agriculture could be employed to aid wildlife, as well. But action must come swiftly, or we may lose countless species to extinction without even ever realising they were there in the first place.

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