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Risks to Africa’s flora

January 2020: More than 30% of Africa’s fauna could be at risk of extinction due to climate change, deforestation, land-use change, and population growth. The paper calls for a comprehensive assessment of global plant species to identify vulnerable species and regions and inform global bio-conservation strategies.

Information

A recent study applied the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) assessment strategy for measuring risks of vertebrate extinction to Africa’s fauna. Following the same methodology used by the IUCN, the researcher found that 31.7% of Africa’s vascular plants could be threatened with extinction. Despite research assessing risks for 86% of all mammal species, only 8% of the global plant species have been assessed. The researchers focussed on the potential conservation status of tropical flora on the scale of the African continent. Their work underlines the major challenges in conservation tropical biodiversity against anthropological climate change, deforestation, land-use changes, economic development, and population growth. The researchers identify trees, shrubs, herbs, and woody vines as particularly vulnerable and establish that plant extinction is occurring faster than would be expected naturally.

Implications and opportunities

Accelerated plant extinction could have cascading effects on ecosystems and mammal species on a global scale. People and other mammal species rely on plants directly for food, shade, and construction materials and indirectly for ecosystem services such as carbon fixation and oxygen creation. Based on this evidence, identifying the most vulnerable plant species could inform strategies for bio-conservation and policy interventions. The paper identifies Ethiopia, central Tanzania, south of DRC, and the West African Tropical Rainforest as particularly exposed regions and calls for a comprehensive ‘red list’ assessment to automatically classify the conservation status of vascular plants on a global scale.

Limitations

The study represents a complimentary assessment to research conducted by IUCN and more evidence will be needed to successfully establish a broad categorisation of conservation statuses of global plant species.


Sources

Stévart, T., Dauby, G., Lowry, P. P., Blach-Overgaard, A., Droissart, V., Harris, D. J., … Couvreur, T. L. P. (2019). A third of the tropical African flora is potentially threatened with extinction. Science Advances, 5(11), eaax9444. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aax9444 

BBC (2019). A third of tropical African plants face extinction. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-50477684

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The views expressed in these external research papers are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.