Bournemouth: One in three of the world’s tree species are at risk of becoming extinct, according to a recent report by the Global Tree Assessment – the first attempt to estimate the conservation status of all of Earth’s trees.
Well-known species, including magnolias, oaks and maples are among those at risk. More than 400 species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, and 142 tree species are already extinct.
Human activity is the overwhelming culprit, especially forest clearance for farming, logging for timber and the spread of invasive pests and diseases.
“When myself and colleagues first came up with the idea of a worldwide assessment of tree species in 2015, it seemed like an impossible task. Back then, nobody even knew how many there were, let alone how they were all faring. The first task was to make a list of all tree species that have been described in scientific literature. It turns out there are nearly 60,000, most of which live in tropical forests, and scientists continue to describe new species each year,” said Adrian Newton, Professor in Conservation Ecology, Bournemouth University
“We then had to determine which of these are under threat of extinction. Given the huge number of species, this was a much bigger task than any conservation assessment undertaken previously. We created a global network of more than 500 experts, each assessing the species they were most familiar with, and the report is the result of that enormous collaborative effort which took five years to complete. There are twice as many threatened tree species globally than threatened mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles combined,” said Adrian.
Trees are also food and habitat for at least half of the Earth’s known land-based plants and animals. Losing tree species can cause cascades of extinction among the many species that depend on them.
Trees are very valuable to people too. More than one-fifth are used as a source of food, fuel, timber or medicine. Others have important cultural and religious value. Worryingly, some of the most useful and significant species are among those facing extinction. Dipterocarps, Agarwood,Prunus africana, Swietenia macrophylla and mahogany are the five which will soon become extinct if not protected.