Thousands of Undiscovered Plant Species Worldwide Face Extinction

A new study involving conservationist Dr David Roberts from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent, has revealed that thousands of rare flowering plant species worldwide may become extinct before scientists can even discover them.

Combining their own methodology with data from the online World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at the Royal Botanic Gardens (Kew), Dr Roberts and colleagues Dr Lucas Joppa from Microsoft Research (Cambridge) and Dr Stuart Pimm of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment (North Carolina, USA) were able to provide an estimate of total species for flowering plants, and from that calculate how many more remain undiscovered.

“By using a model that incorporates taxonomic effort over time, we calculated that the current number of species should grow by 10 to 20%, meaning that there are between 10 and 20% more undiscovered flowering plant species than previously thought – a finding that has enormous conservation implications, as any as-yet-unknown species are likely to be overwhelmingly rare and threatened,” explains Dr Joppa.

Dr Roberts says: “If we take the number of species that are currently known to be threatened, and add to that those that are yet to be discovered, we can estimate that between 27% and 33% of all flowering plants will be threatened with extinction.”

Dr Joppa adds: “That percentage reflects the global impact of factors such as habitat loss. It may increase if you factor in other threats such as climate change.”

Dr Pimm comments: “2010 marks the International Year of Biodiversity. The focus of this celebration has often been on the species we know of, along with discussions on the unprecedented challenge of conserving this biodiversity in the face of threats such as habitat loss. However, by asking just how many species we will lose before they are even discovered, our study has revealed a figure that is truly alarming.”

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