The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in a recent report states that some 40% of the world’s species of plants are threatened with extinction. Previous research in 2016 showed 20% of plant species of being under the threat.
However, the “State of the World’s Plant and Fungi 2020” report which was published on Wednesday, draws in works of around 210 scientists belonging to 42 different countries- to reveal the scale of the problem all by using improved methodology and data.
The report said that deforestation rates have soared as people have cleared land to feed even-more people. Global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten crops and health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are out-competing local floras added the RBG Kew report. RBG Kew carries out scientific research into fungi and plants as well as runs the renowned botanical garden in West London.
Researchers also point out the grim reality that this report is comprised of the information available to them. There are huge gaps in their knowledge of plants and hence more work is needed to assess the conservation status of more species. Director of Science at RGB Kew, Alexandre Antonelli said that its nothing but a race against time as we are losing plants faster than we can name them. He added that a world without that 40% is not the world that we know today.
What’s more concerning is the fact that we have no clue as to what the effects of losing 40% of plant species would be said Antonelli adding that it would be “catastrophic” as we do not understand which species play important role in a particular ecosystem as everything is linked up.
The situation or the threat for medicinal plants is far more real as with the demand for naturally derived medicines are creating problems in their survival. Out of the 5,411 species of medicinal plants that were accessed in the study, 723 are threatened. Researchers believe that the increased demand for herbal medicines is driven by a greater prevalence of certain chronic illnesses and the undying quest for new treatments.
The report also recommended for more funding in projects to find, name, and conserve species that could provide solutions to some of humanity’s biggest problems before they go extinct. This includes climate change and food insecurity crisis. As of now, humans rely on just 15 plants to serve 90% of our food needs, adding to the problem of malnutrition and leaving us at the mercy of climate change. However, scientists in Kew were able to identify 7,039 plant species which could be used as food.
Stefano Padulosi, former Senior Scientist at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, who co-authored the food chapter of the report said that harnessing this basket of untapped resources for making food, and production of systems more diverse and resilient to change, should be “our moral duty towards current and future generations.”
The situation is no different when it comes to producing energy. As of now, we use six crops—maize, soybean, rapeseed, palm oil, wheat, and sugarcane- to produce 80% of global biofuel. But now, researchers have identified 2,500 species of plants that could be used to produce energy. This potentially is a major boon for the 840 million people (whom they estimate) who have no access to electricity.
Contributor Mary Suzan Abbo and managing director of the Centre for Research in Energy and Energy Conservation at Makerere University said that International collaboration can help to identify the plants and fungi that will make clean, sustainable energy accessible to everyone. She added that this approach could be used to cut down on the unsustainable use of wood and charcoal.
A slew of various other species has been also identified in the report which includes two new relatives of cassava from Brazil. Experts believe that this could in the future- proof the food crops by making it pest or disease resistant.
However, ground-breaking developments as such are less likely to occur as we lose more species. Antonelli also believes that consumers need to make more sustainable choices while holding political leaders to account for the policy. International cooperation will be the key to reducing the threat and harnessing all that plants and fungi can do to help humanity, he said.
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