Thousands of Undiscovered Plants Face Extinction

field of flowers photo

Image credit: Hans Dekker/Flickr

Scientists have estimated that between 5 million and 50 million flowering plant species may be threatened with extinction. The shocking thing about this number is that fewer than 2 million have been discovered. That means millions—and possibly tens-of-millions—of species may vanish from the planet before they are known to science.

And these numbers, a new study shows, may be conservative.Lucas Joppa, of Microsoft Research, explained:

Using novel methods, we were able to refine the estimate of total species for flowering plants, and calculate how many of those remain undiscovered.

With a team of botanists and ecologists, Joppa looked at data from the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families at Kew Gardens. Their analysis showed that there are "10 and 20 percent more undiscovered flowering plant species than previously estimated." Joppa commented that the finding has "enormous conservation implications, as any as-yet-unknown species are likely to be overwhelmingly rare and threatened."

Using this new estimate, conservationists can revise previous calculations. David Roberts, of the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology at the University of Kent, explained:

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 percent and 33 percent of all flowering plants will be threatened with extinction.

Furthermore, these percentages only consider the impact of habitat loss, Joppa said. When other factors, such as climate change, are added, the percentages will likely increase.

The question this study raises, the authors said, is "how much biodiversity is out there and how many species will we lose before they are even discovered?"

Read more about flowers:
A Warming Climate Favors Cold Loving Flowers in the Sonoran Desert
Chelsea Flower Show Features Biodiversity As a Theme
Warmer Temps Mean UK Flowers Emerging Earlier Than At Any Time in Past 250 Years

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