'State of the World’s Plants and Fungi' Report Warns of Rapid Extinction

'State of the World’s Plants and Fungi' Report Warns of Rapid Extinction

Shannon Ratliff
Shannon Ratliff
October 11, 2023
2 min

A new publication by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew illuminates an alarming revelation: a considerable number of the earth’s plant and fungi species are teetering on the brink of extinction. This comprehensive analysis, supported by the meticulous work of botanists globally, reveals that biodiversity-rich regions, particularly in Asia, South America, and Australia, are vulnerable.

The World Checklist of Vascular Plants, a cornerstone of this study, has meticulously catalogued over 350,000 plant species, marking a significant milestone in understanding global plant diversity. However, the discovery of new species is lagging, with the extinction rate outpacing documentation. Recent data indicates that for every ten species discovered, approximately fourteen are lost.

In the RBG fungi report, a staggering 90 percent of an estimated 2-3 million species of fungi remain undocumented, a concern exacerbated by climate change and deforestation. In China alone, over 10,000 fungal species are believed to be at risk, illustrating the scale of this biodiversity loss.

Alexandre Antonelli, the esteemed Director of Science at London’s iconic Kew Gardens, highlights the urgent need to refine conservation assessments. Traditional methods, he notes, overlook the complex and varied nature of plant diversity. In Brazil, for instance, over 3,000 unique plant species are undocumented, underscoring the gaps in current conservation efforts.

“Just as our early ancestors needed to know what grows where for their own survival, so plants and fungi need us to know where they grow — to enable us to safeguard their continued existence for generations to come,” Antonelli said in the report.

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The new report amplifies the urgency precipitated by global warming. RBG Kew’s data reveals an unsettling trend - a 20% increase in plant extinction in Africa and Europe over the past decade, underscoring the immediate need for enhanced policies and international collaboration.

The State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020, unveiled at an international symposium, casts a glaring light on knowledge gaps. It underscores the role of every global citizen, especially amidst alarming data such as the 50 percent increase in emissions in biodiversity hotspots like Gaza.

Technology is a pivotal ally in this battle. Artificial intelligence, for instance, has accelerated the identification of over 5,000 new species globally in the past year. Matilda Brown, a leading research figure, underscores the imperative of technology amidst data revealing a 30 percent decrease in plant species in regions impacted by global warming.

With the specter of emissions and ecology imbalance looming large, the IUCN Red List echoes a stark warning - over 25,000 animal species are on the brink of extinction. In this context, conservation status emerges as a priority, illustrated by a 40% increase in protected areas in South America over the past five years.

Open access, a bridge between knowledge and conservation, is paramount. The dialogue between botanists, Kew scientists, and the global populace is energized by a 50 percent increase in accessible biodiversity data over the past decade. Every orchid, every grass strand is a living testament to the intricate tapestry of earth’s ecosystems, accentuated by data showing a 60 percent increase in identified plant diversity over the past two decades.

In this unfolding narrative, where plant and fungal diversity are embattled by the dual forces of biodiversity loss and climate change, the report by RBG Kew is not just a chronicle of the state of the world but a clarion call for urgent, collective action. The findings, supported by data and echoing the voices from every corner of the earth, are an urgent, collective imperative.


Shannon Ratliff

Shannon Ratliff

Head of Content

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