Plant extinctions are shaking Earth’s green foundation
Compared with birds, mammals, and amphibians, more plants have vanished in the wild since 1900. What’s the cost to ecosystems?
More than eight plant species have disappeared every three years, on average, since 1900. This pace of extinction is as much as 500 times plants’ natural or background extinction rate.
“I find it shocking on a personal level, but bigger than that, I find it frightening for the future of our planet,” says study co-author Maria Vorontsova, a plant taxonomist at the U.K.’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Plants are the infrastructure of ecosystems,” she says, and they’re “interdependent with other organisms—and with one another—in ways we don’t completely understand.”
How have human activities pushed plants to the brink worldwide? Some species, such as the St. Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica), were confined to tiny ranges. Settlers on the South Atlantic island