Two-fifths of the world̵
Researchers say they race against time to name and describe new species before they become extinct.
Plants have a huge promise as medicines, fuels and foods, says a report from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
But opportunities to use plants and mushrooms to tackle global issues such as food security and climate change are being lost.
The assessment of the condition of plants and fungi in the world is based on research by more than 200 scientists in 42 countries.
The report was published on the day of the UN summit, which will call for action by world leaders to tackle biodiversity loss.
We live in an age of extinction, said Kew’s director of science, Prof. Alexander Antonelli.
“This is a very worrying picture of risk and the urgent need for action,” he said.
“We lose the race against time because the species are disappearing faster than we can find and name them. Many of them could contain important clues to address some of the most pressing medical challenges and perhaps even emerging and current pandemics. which we are seeing today “.
The report reveals that only a small proportion of existing plant species are used as food and biofuels.
More than 7,000 edible plants have the potential for future crops, but only a handful are used to feed a growing world population.
And there are about 2,500 plants that could provide energy to millions around the world, while only six crops – corn, sugar cane, soybeans, palm oil, canola and wheat – generate most of the biofuels.
Dr Colin Club, head of conservation science at Kew, told BBC News: “We currently use so few plants and fungi in the world, be it for food or medicine or fuel, ignoring the potential treasure of wild species that now we have growing knowledge and research techniques for the benefit of humanity. “
Scientists estimate that the risk of extinction could be much higher than previously thought, with 140,000 or 39.4% of vascular plants expected to be threatened with extinction, compared to 21% in 2016.
They say the increased assessments are partly reduced to more complex and accurate conservation assessments.
They call for rapid follow-up of risk assessments using technologies such as artificial intelligence and more funding for plant protection.
The study found that 723 plants used for medicine are at risk of extinction, with the problem of over-harvesting in some parts of the world.
Both 1942 plants and 1,886 mushrooms were listed as new to science in 2019, including species that could be valuable as food, drink, medicine or fiber.
The report contains a chapter on flora in the United Kingdom, which is better studied than in most parts of the world.
However, there is no single list of flowering plants in the United Kingdom and even greater uncertainty about the fungus, with estimates ranging from 12,000 to 20,000.
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