The Cheat Sheet

Where have all the plants gone?

Jinoy Jose P | Updated on September 19, 2019 Published on September 19, 2019

The existence of plants (flora) had direct and deep link to the existence and growth of animals   -  THE HINDU

Remember Pete Seeger?

Always and forever. But now we are discussing the way our plants have been vanishing from the face of the Earth, bringing us closer to a calamitous future many scientists have been warning us about.

Oh, that’s telling indeed, but what’s new about it?

A new survey-cum-study says plant extinctions are something we should look at more seriously, like we deal with (or cry about) how animals are vanishing off the planet. The results, published in Nature’s journal of Ecology & Evolution, have revealed more than 570 species of plants have gone extinct since the 1750s, and that’s a pace which can easily (and eerily) be compared with rates of animal extinction.

I’m shocked!

You better be, because, according to scientists at the UK’s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who have done the survey, the rate at which plants vanish has been increasing. They say eight plant species on average have been disappearing every three years since 1900. And this rate is 500 times the natural or extinction rate of plants.


As you would know, the existence of plants (flora) had direct and deep link to the existence and growth of animals (fauna) and hence the new survey’s startling revelations must force humanity sit back and take note of how anthropocentric (human induced) activities have wreaked havoc on the planet’s plant stock.


Maria Vorontsova, co-author of the study and a plant taxonomist at Royal Botanic Gardens, says the survey findings are really frightening for the future of our planet since plants are the “infrastructure of ecosystems”. And there are no authoritative and comprehensive studies available that would tell us about the real magnitude of the crisis at hand.

When will we ever learn!

Interestingly, just recently, a fairly exhaustive study on global biodiversity, which was backed by the United Nations, has revealed alarming details about the Earth’s biodiversity loss, saying human activities are pushing a million (yes, you heard me) species towards extinction, endangering the very existence and survival of humanity.

Oh dear! That’s a darker, bleaker picture!

The UN report squarely blamed our current economic systems for the crisis. It said we merrily ignore the many ways that “natural systems prop up the generation of food and wealth”, while businesses and other vested interests level precious lands, draining water resources and, in the process, imperilling the existence of many species. In fact, most organisms of the world are connected to each other and when the existence of one is threatened, it impacts the others. Here is an interesting example of the bee, which will help you understand the correlation better.

The bee?

Yes. As you know, the been is a great pollinator. Bees offer a great service to the way our plants make food for us. In fact, the humble bees are responsible for 75 per cent crop cultivation each year, as the UN study has indicated. Now, factors such as climate change and pesticide use in farming and other areas have caused significant decline in the global population of bees.

Greenpeace pegs the economic value of bees’ pollination work at nearly $300 billion annually, worldwide. Now when the bees are in decline, you can imagine what’s at stake. The same goes for many plants.

So, what should we do now?

The scientists say urgent measures are needed to protect or limit the devastating pace of plant extinction. These include recording of all the plants across the world, global support (at government policy levels and more) towards preserving plant specimens for future and funding crucial research in botany and, above all, creating awareness among the new generation in understanding the importance of plants in society and prepare them to act accordingly.

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Published on September 19, 2019
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