Plant species that humans don’t need are on the verge of extinction

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Human activity helps some plants and harms others, but it harms far more than it helps, according to a new study. This means that many plant species are disappearing because people don’t need them. This will lead to much more homogeneous plant communities in the future compared to those of today and could be catastrophic for many ecosystems.

An example of a losing plant species that is not useful to humans is Araucaria muelleri, an endemic conifer of New Caledonia. Image credit: Flickr/Tim Waters.

We may be the ruling lords of the biosphere, but we don’t treat everyone the same. Some species have been favored and domesticated, while others have been driven to extinction. Some escaped our impacts, while others took advantage of our habits. For researchers, this is important because it allows them to classify plans into two groups, based on how human activity affects them: winners and losers.

John Kress and Gary Krupnick of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History used environmental databases, ethnobotanical descriptions, and conservation assessments to study and measure the impact of humans on current botanical diversity. In total, they were able to categorize 86,592 species of vascular plants.

They classified plant species into seven categories of winners and losers: useful winners, useful losers, non-useful winners, tentative winners, non-useful losers, potential losers and currently neutral – assessing information on uses economic, state of conservation and environment. tolerance of selected vascular plants.

“I actually started this project with optimism,” Kress said in a statement. “I had just planted all these trees around my house in Vermont and I thought to myself that maybe there are more winners than losers, and we just focus on whatever goes away.”

It turns out that was not the case.

Winners and losers

The study showed that losers currently outnumber winners nearly 3 to 1, and they will continue to do so if human impact on the planet maintains its current trajectory. Researchers have classified more than 20,000 plant species as losers, most of them not useful to humans. In contrast, they found nearly 7,000 winner species, with all but 164 having human use.

Plant winners and losers in the age of humans. Image credit: The Researchers.

To look for evolutionary patterns among winners and losers, the researchers also mapped the locations of species. It turned out that the winners and losers were evenly split between the different factory groups. The exception came from the small lines, which were more inclined to lean in favor of winners or losers. Some of the lines most at risk were the cycads and the cypress family.

“Now and in the future, plants must adapt to the environment that humans have created or they will die out,” Krupnick said. “Our results suggest that this means that the plant communities of the future will be more homogeneous than those of today.

This will of course have serious consequences for ecosystems around the world as well as for humanity. More limited plant diversity can lead to a loss of animal diversity, making ecosystems less resilient to change, the researchers said. Humanity will have fewer options for reforesting the planet and finding new medicines and foods, for example.

So what can we do? We must not ignore the successes in which species have been preserved, areas protected and habitats restored. The researchers suggested that more efforts be made to increase the use of rarer species without depleting local populations. Efforts are already in place, such as techniques being developed to conserve the genetic diversity of native orchids. But there’s still a lot of work to do – and being aware of the problem is the first step.

The study was published in the journal Plants People Planet.

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