In the past 250 years, 571 plant species have gone extinct, according to a study published yesterday (June 10) in Nature Ecology & Evolution. This figure is four times more than the number of plant extinctions on record at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in Switzerland, and the researchers suggest that many more species losses remain uncounted.
“It is way more than we knew and way more than should have gone extinct,” coauthor Maria Vorontsova of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the UK tells The Guardian. “It is frightening not just because of the 571 number but because I think that is a gross underestimate.”
Compiling data from the literature, international databases, and museum specimens, Vorontsova and her colleagues surveyed more than 330,000 species to document the losses. That’s more than 10 times the number of species included by any other survey, Duke University conservation scientist Stuart Pimm tells Nature. “[The] results are enormously significant.”
The rate of loss—nearly three species a year since 1900—is some 500 times greater than researchers would expect from natural causes, the study authors report. Islands and the tropics seem to be particularly vulnerable. “This study is the first time we have an overview of what plants have already become extinct, where they have disappeared from and how quickly this is happening,” coauthor Aelys Humphreys of Stockholm University tells the BBC.