Writing in Science Advances, a team led by Tariq Stevart has identified the enormous size of the threat to African plant life, with a third of species under threat from extinction and another third likely to become threatened in the near future.
Plants are a key part of almost all ecosystems. They provide food of course, but also the oxygen that can fight climate change, raw materials from cotton to cotton to wood, and potentially many new and as yet to be discovered medicines.
So losing a third, perhaps two thirds, of African plants would be catastrophic. And plants are just as sensitive to the activities of humanity as animals are.
Unfortunately plants have not been in the spotlight to the same extent as animals. (Perhaps we should blame Sir David Attenborough!) Stevart’s team has however come up with a way of providing an initial classification of risk to plant species. Using data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) they have developed a computer algorithm that automatically classifies the conservation status of plants.
The method may not be perfect – some authorities feel that it may even be alarmist in its conclusions. But the method is a useful first step and appears to be a very important wake up call.
Plants may be less cuddly than animals. But they are as essential to global bio-stability as animals are, more so perhaps. So a focus on plant conservation is just as important as the current focus on animal conservation.
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