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One fifth of the world's plants under threat of extinction: Report

A technician picks up a sample of frozen DNA from Ficus hispida fig tree at the Jodrell Science laboratory at Kew Gardens where staff work on the extraction of plant DNA in south-west London on May 9, 2016.
Daniel Leal-Olivas | AFP | Getty Images
A technician picks up a sample of frozen DNA from Ficus hispida fig tree at the Jodrell Science laboratory at Kew Gardens where staff work on the extraction of plant DNA in south-west London on May 9, 2016.

Around one fifth of our planet's plants are threatened with extinction as a result of threats relating to climate change, invasive species and land use change, according to a new report from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The report, called State of the World's Plants, took more than a year to produce and benefits from the input of over 80 scientists. It says that there are an estimated 391,000 vascular plants "known to science", with 369,000 of these flowering plants.

"This is the first ever global assessment on the state of the world's plants… I find this remarkable given the importance of plants to all of our lives– from food, medicines, clothing, building materials and biofuels, to climate regulation," Kathy Willis, director of science at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew said in a statement.


"This report therefore provides the first step in filling this critical knowledge gap," Willis added.

Almost four percent of species were threatened by "climate change and severe weather", with agriculture threatening 31 percent of species. Plants were being directly impacted by climate change, including changes in flowering times, the report said.

It also referenced research which highlighted how, in Sub-Saharan Africa, "up to 30 percent of areas growing maize and bananas, and up to 60 percent of those producing beans," could become unviable by the end of this century. Other crops such as cassava and yams were found to be more hardy, however, and were described as "climate-smart crops of the future."

"Having proof that root crops like cassava and yams are among the climate-smart crops of the future for sub Saharan Africa is vital for informing policy and planning today," Willis said.

Located in south west London, Kew is a renowned scientific organization devoted to the study of plants and fungi.

"This is the most significant horizon-scanning document to be released by Kew in recent decades and I hope as many people as possible will access the findings," Richard Deverell, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, said in a statement.

"Plants represent one of the most important constituents of biodiversity, the foundation of most of the world's ecosystems and hold the potential to tackle many of the world's present and future challenges," Deverell added.