Plants Extinction

PLANTS

Extinction is a part of life, and animals and plants (which includes trees) disappear all the time. About 98% of all the organisms that have ever existed on our planet are now extinct.

When a species goes extinct, its role in the ecosystem is usually filled by new species, or other existing ones. Earth’s ‘normal’ extinction rate is often thought to be somewhere between 0.1 and 1 species per 10,000 species per 100 years. This is known as the background rate of extinction.

A mass extinction event is when species vanish much faster than they are replaced. This is usually defined as about 75% of the world’s species being lost in a ‘short’ amount of geological time – less than 2.8 million years. We have had five of those events.

Climate change has triggered the beginning of a “sixth mass extinction” of plant and animal species.

Human activity has been harmful in other ways as well, altering landscapes by cutting down trees, creating large swaths of mono-crop farmland, and polluting regions with toxic waste. In doing so, humans are adding to the destruction of natural, interconnected ecosystems causing the extinction of up to one million species. As temperatures continue to increase across the globe, plants that once thrived in their native habitats are either being forced to adapt to new conditions or accelerate the rate of extinction.

The rate by which plants are going extinct is at an all-time high across the globe. Since 1900, nearly 3 species of seed-bearing plants have disappeared per year ― 500 times faster than they would naturally. In so far as plants form the infrastructure of ecosystems and are interdependent with other organisms, when a plant species goes extinct it can harm every other species in the ecosystem. Dramatic changes to the structure of a previously stable ecosystem can result. For example, the average time between fires in the Yellowstone National Park ecosystem is projected to decrease from 100 to 300 years to less than 30 years, potentially causing coniferous (pine, spruce, etc.) forests to be replaced by woodlands and grasslands.

Now, scientists are working to understand what can be done to lessen the impacts of climate change on endangered plant species and save them from extinction.

CURRENT NEWS

Florida Keys coral reefs devastated by 2023 heat wave

By Andrew Freedman 02/16/24
A new survey of five Florida Keys' coral reefs shows extensive damage from a long-lasting and severe marine heat wave last year. Why it matters: Corals are havens for biodiversity, providing shelter for over 25%…
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Polluted Flowers Smell Less Sweet to Pollinators, Study Finds

By Emily Anthes 02/08/24
The damage that air pollution can do is wide-ranging and well-known: The chemicals produced by human activities can trap heat in the atmosphere, change the chemistry of the oceans and harm human health in myriad…
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Survival of Wild Rice Threatened by Climate Change, Increased Rainfall in Northern Minnesota

By Andrew Hazzard, Sahan Journal 08/14/23
Todd Moilanen paddles gently through wild rice beds on Ogechie Lake, trying not to disturb a loon sleeping on its back on a nest of reeds a few feet away.
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World’s oldest moss could go extinct as a result of climate crisis

By Rume Otuguor 08/09/23
The world’s oldest moss, found in the Himalayas, may not be able to survive climate breakdown, scientists have said.
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Google wants you to save coral reefs (with AI’s help)

By Ayurella Horn-Muller 04/18/23
Google has teamed up with marine biologists in launching a new citizen-science, AI-powered platform allowing you to help save the world’s coral reefs — from the comfort of your couch.
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65% of Antarctica’s Plants and Wildlife Will Decline by 2100, Study Finds

By Susmita Baral 01/11/23
The impact of the man-made climate crisis on Antarctica is scientifically undeniable: stable ice shelves are retreating, air temperature increased by 3 degrees Celsius, krill numbers are declining, melting ice is contributing to sea level…
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As many as one in six U.S. tree species is threatened with extinction

By Sarah Kaplan 08/23/22
The most endangered tree in the contiguous United States is most likely a battered old oak hidden deep in a Texas mountain range. Its trunk is scarred by a wildfire. Its limbs are weak from…
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Fewer rainy days leading to earlier spring in northern climes

By Jeff Grabmeier 02/17/22
A drop in the total number of rainy days each year is contributing to an earlier arrival of spring for plants in northern climates, a new study finds. Scientists have known that warmer temperatures due…
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Plants at risk of extinction as climate crisis disrupts animal migration

By Hibaq Farah 01/13/22
The decline of seed-dispersing animals is damaging plants’ ability to adapt to climate breakdown, a study has found. Almost half of all plant species depend on animals to spread their seeds, but scientists fear these…
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Threats to crop wild relatives compromising food security and livelihoods

09/07/21
Over 70 wild relatives of some of the world’s most important crops are threatened with extinction, according to a new IUCN co-authored study launched today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille. These plants,…
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Avocados and vanilla among dozens of wild crop relatives facing extinction

By Patrick Greenfield 09/07/21
Wild relatives of some of the world’s most important crops, including potatoes, avocados and vanilla, are threatened with extinction, according to a study.
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Plant extinctions are shaking Earth’s green foundation

By Michael Greshko 09/18/19
When you conjure up “extinction” in your mind’s eye, you probably see an animal—a dodo, perhaps, or a Tasmanian tiger. But the biodiversity crisis isn’t just faunal, it’s floral too. Since the 1750s, at least…
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KEY RESOURCES

Wildlife Conservation Society

09/22/21
Our scientists have created innovative and powerful solutions for addressing and managing the impacts of climate change in every region where we work.

Global dataset shows geography and life form predict modern plant extinction and rediscovery

09/22/21
Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name a recently extinct plant. We present a comprehensive, global analysis of modern extinction in plants. Almost…

Extinction risk in vascular plants and vertebrates is negatively correlated with family size

09/15/21
The world is increasingly facing a species extinction crisis (Ceballos and Ehrlich, 2002, Thomas et al., 2004). The current rate of species extinction is 100–1000 times higher than pre-human levels (Pimm et al., 1995), and the…

BGCI Launches the State of the World’s Trees Report

09/01/21
Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has published a landmark State of the World’s Trees report. The report, compiling work led by the Global Tree Assessment (GTA), is the culmination of five years of research to…

Vascular plant extinction in the continental United States and Canada

08/28/21
Extinction rates are expected to increase during the Anthropocene. Current extinction rates of plants and many animals remain unknown. We quantified extinctions among the vascular flora of the continental United States and Canada since European…

Take a look at some of America’s endangered plants by state

06/14/21
When you think of endangered species, you probably picture exotic animals like pandas or tigers, but species don’t have to be far away or even animals to be endangered. In fact, there are over 800…

Study shows plant extinction is more common than previously realized

11/24/20
A new study reveals that 65 plant species have gone extinct in the continental United States and Canada since European settlement, more extinctions than any previous scientific study has ever documented.

What we need to know to prevent a mass extinction of plant species

10/20/20
Human actions are driving plant species to extinction at rates a hundred to a thousand times faster than normal. To prevent extinctions, it would be helpful to have a more comprehensive taxonomic catalogue and much…

40% of plants are threatened with extinction

09/30/20
The State of the World's Plants and Fungi report from Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG) Kew estimated that 39.4% of plants are now threatened with extinction. It's a jump from one in five plants thought to be at…

How Many Plants Have We Wiped Out? Here Are 5 Extinction Stories

09/19/20
For starters, an untold number of creatures — especially teensy, nocturnal or otherwise cryptic ones — have vanished before humans ever noticed them.

MORE NEWS

World’s largest plant survey reveals alarming extinction rate

By Heidi Ledford   06/10/19  
The world’s seed-bearing plants have been disappearing at a rate of nearly 3 species a year since 1900 ― which is up to 500 times higher than would be expected as a result of natural…
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Humans are driving one million species to extinction

By Jeff Tollefson   05/06/19  
Up to one million plant and animal species face extinction, many within decades, because of human activities, says the most comprehensive report yet on the state of global ecosystems. Without drastic action to conserve habitats,…
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