Extinction

One-Fifth of Earth's Plants Threatened with Extinction

Recent trends on population, farmland, deforestation, and urbanization are cause for optimism.

|

TropicalForestCutTimoRasanenAaltoUniversity
Timo Rasanen/Aalto University

The highly respected Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has just issued The State of the World's Plants 2016 in which its researchers estimate that perhaps one-fifth of the world's 391,000 vascular plant species may be at risk of extinction. The chief reason plant species are threatened is human activity, specifically land use changes such as farming, raising livestock, logging, and land development. The Kew findings rely heavily on research published last year, "Green Plants in the Red," in PLoS One by a team of mostly British researchers associated with the Natural History Museum and Kew Gardens. According to the journal metrics that article received no media coverage, which may be why the results are being updated and republished in the splashy report.

To try to estimate how many plants are threatened with extinction, the researchers took a random sample consisting of some 7,000 plant species and then checked to see how they are faring using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN constructs and maintains various databases called Red Lists aiming to monitor the conservation status of species populations.

The PLoS One study reported, "More than 20% of plant species assessed are threatened with extinction, and the habitat with the most threatened species is overwhelmingly tropical rain forest, where the greatest threat to plants is anthropogenic habitat conversion, for arable and livestock agriculture, and harvesting of natural resources." The study also calculated that "arable farming affects 60% of threatened species, while livestock farming affects 47%, logging affects 38%, targeted harvesting affects 25% and fires (natural or man-made) also affect 25% of threatened species."

EconomistPlantExtinction
Economist.com

In addition, the PLoS One study estimated that with 79% of threatened plant species are found in forests, followed by 19% of threatened species in shrubland, 13% in rocky outcrops, 10% in savanna and also 10% in grassland  percentages do not sum to 100% as some species occur in more than one habitat). The fewest threatened species were found in deserts and wetlands, largely because those areas are least suited for agriculture.

So that's the bad news. But the good news is peak farmland and plantation forestry. As I report in my chapter on extinction in my book The End of Doom:

Considering that agriculture is the most expansive and intensive way in which people transform natural landscapes, the really good news is that the amount of land globally devoted to food production may be falling as population growth slows and agricultural productivity increases. "We believe that projecting conservative values for population, affluence, consumers, and technology shows humanity peaking in the use of farmland," conclude Jesse Ausubel, the director of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, and his colleagues in their 2013 article "Peak Farmland and the Prospect for Land Sparing." They add, "Global arable land and permanent crops spanned 1,371 million hectares in 1961 and 1,533 million hectares in 2009, and we project a return to 1,385 million hectares in 2060." As a result of these trends, humanity will likely restore at least 146 million hectares, an area two and a half times that of France or the size of ten Iowas, and possibly much more land. "Another 50 years from now, the Green Revolution may be recalled not only for the global diffusion of high-yield cultivation practices for many crops, but as the herald of peak farmland and the restoration of vast acreages of Nature," write the researchers. "Now we are confident that we stand on the peak of cropland use, gazing at a wide expanse of land that will be spared for Nature."

Also in The End of Doom I note:

Resources for the Future analyst Roger Sedjo estimates that most of the world's wood products could be derived from tree plantations occupying about 7 percent of the world's currently forested area. Improving the productivity of tree plantations by means of biotechnology would shrink that area even further. Cultivating trees on plantations spares land for natural forests to grow, and the more productive the trees, the more the land that can be spared for nature.

A couple of months after my book came out, the Food and Agriculture Organization published its new Forest Resources Assessment and reported that that rate of deforestation had already fallen by half between 1990 and 2010. And what is more, the rate of deforestation was likely to continue decelerating.

And finally, most people are moving off of hard scrabble farms and into cities. From The End of Doom:

Demographers expect that 80 percent of people will live in urban areas by 2050 or so. Setting aside the demographic fact that people who live in cities have fewer children, what this trend means is that a lot fewer people will be living on the landscape in the future. Today, about half of the world's population of 7.2 billion people lives in rural areas. Assuming that world population grows to 9 billion by 2050 and that 80 percent do live in cities, that would mean that only 1.8 billion would be on the landscape, as compared to 3.6 billion today. If world population tops out at 8 billion, then only 1.6 billion people would live in the countryside—2 billion fewer people than live there now.

The new data on the vulnerability of plants to extinction from the Kew researchers is sobering, but there are lots of positive trends that suggest that the 21st century will be a century of environmental renewal, rather than one of ecological ruin.

NEXT: Trump Searches for a VP, Cruz Plots, Clinton Pivots Left: P.M. Links

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Are you single tonight? A lot of beautiful girls waiting for you to http://goo.gl/pI9ucn
    The best adult dating site!

  2. Species, not individual organisms, Ron.

      1. These masturbation euphemisms etc etc…

        1. WHO’S COMMITTED TO RECYCLING?!!

  3. But the good news is peak farmland and plantation forestry.

    No, good news would be that crabgrass and dandelions were in that 20% of threatened plant species.

    1. Good luck in wiping out Dandylions. =)
      They are a vegetable that we have forgotten how to eat.

  4. Let’s get Sting to do a concert. Maybe he can put another native in a cage and transport him around so people can poke at him… like he did back in the 90s.

  5. Woah, even plants can be problematic?

    1. Some plants only get paid 79 volumes of oxygen compared to some other plant! Equal gas for equal something or other!

  6. Wait. So if a native species is causing the extinction this is deemed “problematic”? It sounds like this group has a bias against extinction, as if biodiversity has some inherent, objective value.

    1. maybe. some members of a genus may not be vulnerable, or as vulnerable, to a pest or pathogen that completely wipes out other members. greater diversity could contribute to that effect, preventing wide spread collapse of niches and loss of productivity.

  7. Climate change/severe weather

    People usually just label the bullshit category “miscellaneous” or “other”.

  8. ‘…its researchers estimate that perhaps one-fifth of the world’s 391,000 thousand vascular plant species may be at risk of extinction. ‘

    All species are at risk of extinction. Most species that existed are extinct. Mother Nature is no helicopter parent.

    1. Mother Nature be a harsh mistress.

  9. Of course no one cared. Twenty percent is nothing by today’s standards. Global warming threatens ten times more plant species, literally 200 percent. And it will specifically wipe out only the good plants. Evil plants will actually grow more powerful and feed off the surviving humans.

    1. Feed me Seymour!

  10. “Fire” isn’t under “Natural Causes”.

    Do you even science??

    1. This. Northern boreal forests evolved with fire you cannot walk a foot without seeing evidence of past burns… it is everywhere. The junk science methodology used to be limited to psychology/sociology it moved to medical research and is now being adopted by all scienctific practice it would seem. I can’t wait until the syupidity moves into engineering…. “that bridge was infused with positive energy, even if it was constructed out of recycled tinfoil wrapped popsicle sticks, we feel it will work”

      1. Brawndo. It’s what bridges crave.

        1. + 1 electrolytes

        2. + 1 electrolytes

  11. And were the IUCN Red Lists audited?

    If the database curation process is such that stuff gets easily added to the list, and is hard to remove once it’s one there, then things will look much worse than they are.

  12. The chart heading says “Paving order paradise”

    Hardly.

    What is now referred to as a “tropical rain forest” used to be called the jungle.

    It wasn’t – and isn’t – a paradise to live in.

    1. Paving over paradise

    2. Doo-doo-doo, da-da-do-do-wow!
      There’s a place called the rainforest that truly sucks ass
      Let’s knock it all down and get rid of it fast
      You say ‘save the rainforest’, but what do you know?
      You’ve never been to the rainforest before!
      Getting Gay with Kids is here
      To tell you things you might not like to hear
      You only fight these causes ‘cos caring sells
      All you activists can go fuck yourselves.

      Someday if we work hard boys and girls..
      There’ll be no more rainforests left in the entire world..
      Getting Gay with Kids is here
      To spread the word, and bring you cheer
      Getting Gay with Kids is here
      Lets knock down the rainforest, whaddaya say?
      It’s totally gay, It’s totally gay!

  13. ALSHIHAB control for better cleaning cleaning company specializing in Mecca in providing integrated cleaning services by specialized workers and trained on the latest ways and???? ????? ??????? ?? ??? ???????
    methods of cleaning Modern They are the best committed Bmeidha firm and honest in maintaining your valuables from homes, villas and palaces, carpets, councils and all that needs to be cleaned using cars Speaking equipped the best prepared and devices global cleaning and using imported cleaning materials high precision and concentration gives the best cleaning results in the fastest???? ????? ??????? ?? ??? ???????
    time and lowest prices with the guarantee exceed ten years and the best services provided by Shehab control company for cleaning services in Mecca cleaning houses services cheaper prices for more cleaning houses company in Mecca.

    1. I dropped the ribs on the way to grill yesterday and have pigs blood all over my floor. Can you guys help?

  14. ALSHIHAB control for better cleaning cleaning company specializing in Mecca in providing integrated cleaning services by specialized workers and trained on the latest ways and methods of cleaning Modern They are the best committed Bmeidha firm and honest in maintaining your valuables from????? ??????? ?? ??? ???????
    homes, villas and palaces, carpets, councils and all that needs to be cleaned using cars Speaking equipped the best prepared and devices global cleaning and using imported cleaning materials high precision and concentration gives the best cleaning results in the fastest time and lowest prices with the guarantee exceed ten years and the best services provided by Shehab control company for cleaning services in????? ????? ?? ???
    Mecca cleaning houses services cheaper prices for more cleaning houses company in Mecca.

  15. ALSHIHAB control for better cleaning cleaning company specializing in Mecca in providing integrated cleaning services by specialized workers and trained on the latest ways and methods of cleaning Modern They are the best committed Bmeidha firm and honest in maintaining your valuables from homes, villas and palaces, carpets, councils and all that needs to be cleaned using cars Speaking equipped the best ????? ????? ?? ??? ???????
    prepared and devices global cleaning and using imported cleaning materials high precision and concentration gives the best cleaning results in the fastest time and lowest prices with the guarantee exceed ten years and the best services provided by Shehab control company for cleaning services in Mecca cleaning houses services cheaper prices for more cleaning houses company in Mecca.

    1. WOW !!! Islamic Squirrel Bots !!!!

      1. Isn’t that a swing band?

  16. Isn’t that sort of the point of evolution?

    I mean, yeah, it’s a shame, but if it can’t make it, then well, that’s how the universe works.

    1. Yeah and you know who else believed in a form of Darwinism?

  17. How can plants be threatened when ‘climate change’ threatens to make the environment ideal for expanding plantlife?

    Oh, you mean they didn’t get that memo? I suppose this should be read to mean that climate change is making it warmer unless it isn’t when it does until maybe only the evil plants win with an ice age because inputs?

    I think I see it now.

  18. Ok… so what?

    A huge problem with the enviromental alarmism (WRT threatened/endangered species) is the de facto assumption that it is a bad thing. Species come and species go. When circumstances change, and they’ve been in a state of constant change for, like, ever, species either (a.) move to more favorable circumstances, (b.) adapt to the changing circumstances, or (c.) die off and make room for some other species to assume their position.

    There is all this alarmism about extinctions and mass extinction event and bullshit, while every year Discover News and similar outlets are reporting on X thousand “new” species disovered. It makes it hard to take any of this shit seriously.

  19. Besi Berkualitas, Harga Ekonomis
    Toko Besi Baja Mandiri menyediakan beragam jenis besi baja diantaranya besi baja beton, klik

    konstruksi baja solo
    jasa konstruksi jembatan

  20. Lowongan Kerja Terbaru Tahun 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru sma maret 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru BUMN maret 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru CPNS maret 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru Jakarta maret 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru Tangerang maret 2017
    Lowongan Kerja Terbaru
    LOKER TERBARU

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.