7,000 African plant species at risk of extinction due to climate change

A recent report says about one in every three plant species in Africa faces the risk of extinction due to climate change

About one in every three plant species in Africa is at the risk of extinction due to climate change, a study has revealed. Researchers classified about 7,000 out of more than 22,000 vascular plant species in Africa as "likely or potentially" threatened, the report said, pointing towards the losses of biodiversity, rapid human population growth, changes in land use, and the effects of changing the climate as reasons behind the disappearance.

Researchers assessed a total of 22,036 vascular plant species

The team of researchers that assessed the 'Red List' -- the most authoritative list of threatened species developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – said Ethiopia, the centre of Tanzania, the southern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the forests of West Africa were among regions most vulnerable.

The researchers, who assessed a total of 22,036 vascular plant species in tropical Africa and found that 32 per cent were on their way to disappearing, stressed on further evidence that said the flora of tropical Africa was highly vulnerable for the future. It revealed the species most at risk included trees, shrubs, herbs, and woody vines that are crucial to maintaining the ecosystem and life in general.

Ethiopia has the highest number of disappearing species

The research published in the journal Science Advances further suggested the situation was "magnified by the effects of climate change" -- one of the most important assumptions influencing extinction risk, and said that despite multiple countries losing fauna, Ethiopia had the highest number of disappearing species.

The findings of the research that uses a novel methodology based on key components of the IUCN Red List's assessment process to discern the potential conservation status of tropical flora at the continental scale suggested that Ethiopia's highlands were among the top 10 most threatened, with 50 per cent of its tropical plants deemed "likely or potentially" threatened.

The team using RAINBIO – a newly constructed database consisting over 600,000 geo-referenced occurrence records of more than 20,000 vascular plant species in tropical Africa – suggested that tropical Africa was "faced with significant and mounting threats resulting from a wide range of activities such as logging, fuelwood collection, and deforestation for agriculture and mining".

Experts say extinction is looming over a million species of plants, animals

Plants are very diverse in spite of a common ancestor Pixabay

The researchers categorized each species into five preliminary conservation status levels -- likely threatened, potentially threatened, likely rare, potentially rare, and likely not threatened, with co-author Bonaventure Sonke noticing these "results were possible because the partners involved agreed to share their data".

Sonke continued the report was the key finding of the United Nation's first comprehensive report on biodiversity -- the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat – which further encouraged "researchers to share their data to obtain results on a larger scale".

Experts say nature is in more trouble now than at any time in human history with extinction looming over one million species of plants and animals, and the report further reveals that species are being lost at rate tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past.

How to prevent this loss?

The report that suggested many of the worst effects could be prevented by changing the way humans grew food, produced energy, dealt with climate change, and disposed waste, highlighted ways such as deforestation, urbanization, overfishing the world's oceans, burning fossil fuels, and pollution of land and water that further reduced biodiversity.

The report said about three-quarters of Earth's land, two-thirds of its oceans, a third of the world's fish stocks overfished, and 85 per cent of crucial wetlands had been severely altered or lost, making it harder for species to survive.

Lead researcher Dr Thomas Couvreur from the French National Institute for Sustainable Development said there were a lot of reasons why "biodiversity, not just in tropical Africa, but all around the world," was important to protect. It also suggested that almost half of the world's land mammals, excluding bats, and nearly a quarter of birds had already been hit by global warming.

Scientists in the most thorough analysis to date of plant extinction earlier this year found that 571 species had been wiped out since the start of the industrial revolution, a figure likely underestimated.