About Plant Conservation
Plant diversity underpins the functioning of all ecosystems, which in turn provide the fundamental support systems upon which all life depends.
Why Conserve Plants?
Plant diversity underpins the functioning of all ecosystems, which in turn provide the fundamental support systems upon which all life depends. Services provided by ecosystems include carbon sequestration, climate regulation, nutrient cycling and pollination. Plants provide us with many direct benefits such as food, medicine, clothes, shelter and the raw materials from which countless other products are made.
Many plants also have important cultural and spiritual values. For example, in Cote d’Ivoire, village elders sit under particular “abres a palabres” trees, such as the Gold Coast Bombax (Bombax buonopozense), to make major political and judicial decisions. Plants are therefore an essential resource for human existence and we should all be aware that plants across the world are endangered with many facing extinction. Their conservation should be a key component of efforts for biodiversity conservation.
Threats to Plants
Plant diversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate. In the past few centuries the changes in society and the increasing pace of development mean that the scale of human impact has grown catastrophically. It is estimated that there are around 400,000 plant species in the world, and at least 25% are now threatened with extinction. Habitat loss and degradation is the primary cause of species loss at local, regional and global scales. It is estimated that habitat destruction from human activity is the primary threat for 83% of endangered plant species. The deliberate or inadvertent introduction of alien species has also led to considerable alteration of many native ecosystems and resulted in the decline of many native species.
Many plant species are being over-exploited. Examples are the unsustainable targeted logging of timber trees, excessive wild harvesting of medicinal and aromatic plants and the extraction of non-timber forest products such as fruits, nuts and resins. The fate of plant species is also being increasingly affected by climate change, models of future plant distributions indicate that a temperature rise of 2-3°C over the next hundred years could result in half the world’s plant species being threatened with extinction. Due to this multitude of different threats, only through coordinated action will it be possible to halt or reduce the loss of biodiversity. Botanic gardens in particular have a crucial role to play in ensuring that we conserve plant diversity for the benefits of all.