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Another leap towards the Barometer of Life

10 November 2011

The latest figures from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, released today, show that more than 61,900 species have now been assessed, providing an even better insight into the state of the world’s biodiversity. A major highlight of the report is not only the increase in the number of species assessed, but also the diversity, moving the IUCN Red List a step closer to becoming a true ‘Barometer of Life’.

Despite the progress made however, it is recognised that plants are still under-represented on the IUCN Red List. Current work underway to increase knowledge includes a review of all Conifers. The results so far uncover some disturbing trends. The Chinese Water Fir (Glyptostrobus pensilis), for example, which was formerly widespread throughout China and Viet Nam has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered. The main cause of decline is the loss of habitat to expanding intensive agriculture and in China there appear to be no wild plants remaining. The largest group of recently discovered Chinese Water Fir in LAO PDR was killed through flooding for a newly constructed hydro scheme and very few, if any, of the trees in Viet Nam produce viable seeds, meaning that this species is rapidly moving towards becoming Extinct in the Wild.  Luckily Glyptostrobus pensilis is well represented in botanic garden collections. View the record in PlantSearch here.

Another example, Taxus contorta, which is used to produce Taxol, a chemotherapy drug, has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to over-exploitation for medicinal use and over-collection for fuel wood and fodder. Many other tropical plant species are also at risk.

The majority of endemic flowering plants in the granitic Seychelles islands have been assessed and current studies show that of the 79 endemic species, 77% are at risk of extinction. Most of these are new assessments but one species, the infamous Coco de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. Known for its supposed aphrodisiac properties, the Coco de Mer faces threats from fires and illegal harvesting of its kernels. Presently, all collection and sale of its seed is highly regulated, but there is thought to be a significant black market trade in the kernels.

“Red list assessments are essential for guiding conservation action. Botanic gardens around the world use the IUCN Red List to prioritize which species to study, grow, conserve and restore in the wild,” says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI. “The latest update shows that we need to act urgently.”

Read the full press release here.

 

 

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