A 5-year global study finds that up to half of the world tree species are at danger of becoming extinct. Agriculture and forest clearing for farming was identified as the biggest culprit.
The State of the World’s Trees report was released on September 1st and it is the first study of global magnitude researching and analyzing the potential extinction of tree species. The study finds that 17,510 (29.9%) tree species could become extinct, which is double the amount of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined. This number could be a lot higher as 21.6% were not evaluated sufficiently and 7.1% were identified as possibly threatened. Only 41.5% of the 58,497 global tree species were confirmed as safe.
Madagascar ranked first as the country with the most number, 1842, of tree species at risk of becoming extinct. This is followed by Brazil which has 1788 tree species at risk of becoming extinct among which were big-leaf mahogany, rosewood and Eugenia. China, which is the 6th most biodiverse nation in the world, has 890 tree species at risk of becoming extinct.
Trees are the backbone of healthy and natural ecosystem. They provide us with medicine and food, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen back into the environment and form the natural habitat for animals, birds and insects. Despite only 0.2% of tree species already extinct, the increasing rate at which they are threatened is a stark warning that we need to act now.
According to the report, the following are the main threats to tree species; Farming (crops 29% and livestock 14%, followed by logging (27%), housing and other commercial development (13%), fire (13%), mining (9%), pulp plantations (6%) and invasive species (3%) and climate change (4%).
The natural ecosystem could potentially collapse and all of the benefits we reap from the rich biodiversity of tree species are at stake.
The report’s lead author, Malin Rivers, the head of conservation prioritization at Botanic Gardens Conservation International(BGCI), said, “Trees are essential — it’s like a Jenga tower. Pull the wrong one out and the ecosystem falls apart.”
The BGCI has come up with a set of recommendations in the report. These include expansion of protected areas of threatened species, planting campaigns for the highest risks species, closer global collaboration, increased funding for conservation efforts and greater efforts to back up species in botanic gardens and seed banks. The group has also launched the Global Tree Portal which is an online database that tracks conservation efforts of the species at a country and global level.
Rivers said, “For the first time we know which species are threatened, where they are and how they are threatened so we can make better-informed conservation decisions. These species are not extinct yet. There is still hope. There are still ways to get them back from the brink.”