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.



Wildlife Conservation Society

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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