Science

The extinction of Africa’s plants

According to a new assessment by the French National Institute of Sustainable Development, over a third of tropical African plants are on the verge of extinction. Deforestation, population growth and climate change are happening at an alarming rate and these factors are posing a very real threat to Africa’s trees, shrubs, herbs and woody vines. Regions of western Africa such as Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the hardest hit. 

Plants, in fact, face a greater risk of being wiped out than many animals whose population statuses are well-studied globally. Only 8% of plant species have been assessed for preliminary classification, and therefore a speedy method of assessing their extinction risk is vital to their survival. The French National Institute for Sustainable Development is now working to focus on two International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List criteria, one relating to population size reduction and another to habitat decline, to develop a computer algorithm that can automatically classify the conservation status of plants. 

The findings of their study were published in Science Advances. Findings shows that the algorithm developed had classified 17% of the plant species in tropical Africa as likely to be under threat and 14% as potentially threatened. This equates to a total of 7,000 species of critically endangered plants.  

Among some of the species greatly endangered are the Genyorchis, a plant native to Cameroon and Gabon whose habitat has been threatened by the increasing level of deforestation. The Weinmannia, a tree that is harvested for its wood and bark and can grow up to 20 meters in height with a bole that is 100 centimeters in diameter, is also critically endangered. There are estimated to be less than 50 Weinmannia trees left because of the over-exploitation of their ferns.  

All life on Earth relies on plants to provide oxygen and produce food. With over 571 plant species wiped out since the start of the industrial revolution, global ramifications of widespread plant extinctions include the loss of biodiversity, followed by the threat of insect and herbivore extinction, which will cause irreversible damage to the food chains of which they are a part.


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03/12/2019

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Monique Santoso


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