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A plant ecologist claims that it is possible to prevent plant extinction entirely.


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Like animals, many plant species struggle to adapt to a human-dominated planet. Yet plants are often overlooked in conservation efforts, even though they are cheaper and easier to protect than animals and play a pivotal role in enhancing our diet, fuel, and medicine. In a review published in the journal Trends in plant sciences On May 2, the plant ecologist proposed an approach to preventing all future extinctions of terrestrial plants worldwide that includes training more plant experts, building an online “metaherbarium,” and creating “mini-servers.”

“There is no technical reason for the extinction of any known plant species,” writes plant ecologist Richard T. Corlett of the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan, China. “If zero extinction were possible for plants, a less ambitious goal would be unjustified.”

It is estimated that 21% – 48% of vascular plant species – which includes flowering plants and trees – could become extinct, mainly due to changes in land use and unsustainable harvesting practices. While it could potentially prevent the extinction of all 382,000 currently known plant species, there is no single solution that works for all species.

Conservation plans can take many forms and can be implemented either in a plant’s natural habitat, often in the form of a nature reserve, or in a structured environment such as a botanical garden. Sometimes a combination works better. For example, a microreserve—a small piece of protected land designed to get around space constraints—could be paired with a supply of frozen seed for reference if needed.

“Keeping self-sustaining wild populations in protected areas is the best solution,” says Corlett. “This allows for continuous evolution in response to ongoing environmental change (such as climate change, new pests and diseases) and continued support from mutualists, herbivores, and pathogens, some of which may face extinction without their single plant host.”

The lack of trained specialists is one of the biggest barriers to plant conservation, especially in tropical regions where there is already a large accumulation of indeterminate species that need to be studied. “Undescribed species are invisible to science and conservation planning,” says Corlett. It’s likely that many “dark extinctions,” which happen when species escape without us even knowing they exist, have already occurred.

Another barrier in preventing plant extinctions is access to information. Nowadays, the most reliable species records come from plant specimens, which are difficult to make use of from a distance. Corlett argues that researchers can get around this problem by building an online “metaherbarium,” linking digital records of herbarium samples with photos, condition assessments, recovery plans, and links to other resources. The online database will allow easy access to the information needed to save all plant species – an achievement that requires collaboration and dedication on an individual, national and global level.

“There are some key areas that need more research, but most of what is needed is not new but much of the same: more people, more space, more funding, more monitoring, more local interventions that work,” he says. Corlett.

more information:
Richard T Corlett, Achieving Zero Extinction for Earth’s Plants, Trends in plant sciences (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2023.03.019

the quote‘Zero extinction of plants’ possible, says Plant Ecologist (2023, May 2), Retrieved May 2, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-extinction-ecologist.html

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