34,000 species of plants in 200 countries threatened with extinction

provided by Island Press

he publication of the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants marks a turning point for conservation. The book, an important new conservation tool, provides baseline information to measure conservation progress and serves as a primary source of data on plant species. Most importantly however, the IUCN Red List provides the building blocks on which to base worldwide efforts to conserve plant species and the ecosystems they inhabit.

There are an estimated 270,00 known species of vascular plants. Of the species assessed, 33,798 species, or at least 12.5 percent of all known vascular plants, are threatened with extinction on a global level. These plants are found in 369 families and are scattered throughout 200 countries around the globe. Of these, 91 percent are limited to a single country which links their potential for extinction to national economic and social conditions.


Affected taxa and families

  There are 511 families of vascular plants currently recognized. According to the IUCN Red List, 372 of these contain globally threatened and/or extinct species. Not surprisingly, the largest families contain the largest numbers of threatened species. Excluding the nineteen threatened monotypic families (ones with only one species in the family, and thus 100 percent threatened), there are 20 plant families with at least 50 percent of their species threatened.


Extinct species

  The IUCN Red List shows that 380 species have become extinct in the wild, with an additional 371 species listed as Extinct/Endangered. Given recent scientific estimates of the number of species disappearing each day, this number seems low. However, it must be remembered that this book lists only recorded extinctions, and there are certainly many more extinctions about which we know nothing. There are at least an additional 6,522 species listed as Endangered.


Countries with most threats

  An endemic species is one that is native to or confined to a particular region. Of the species listed in the IUCN Red List, 91 percent are recorded as single-country endemics - meaning that their only known populations exist solely within the boundaries of a single country. This high percentage is partially due to the greater survival risks faced by plants with restricted ranges, compared to risks faced by widely distributed species. In addition, islands or island groups which often have high rates of endemism, face particularly high levels of threat to their fauna. Seven of the top ten areas listed according to percentage of threatened fauna are islands: St. Helena, Mauritius, Seychelles, Jamaica, French Polynesia, Pitcairn, and Reunion.



  Plants are the foundation of all life on earth, without which we cannot survive. As a first, broad look into the global conservation status of our world's flora, the information contained in the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants is grim. Worldwide, 12.5 percent of the world's vascular plants are threatened with extinction, and it has been shown that in areas with more complete coverage, even higher numbers of threatened species (20 percent to over 40 percent on some islands) are being recorded. When considered in conjunction with the findings in the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals, which revealed that 11 percent of all birds and 25 percent of all known mammal species are threatened, the implications are even more alarming. Furthermore, experts agree that we have been able to evaluate only a relatively small percentage of the species that exist on this planet. Therefore, this list with a high number of plants threatened with extinction leads to grave concerns about the conservation status of the world's biodiversity.
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