[Science news] - Records reveal a third of tropical Africa’s flora faces extinction

An international team of researchers, including two from Meise Botanic Garden, have calculated threat ratings for African plants. The results are alarming, suggesting that almost one third (31.7%) of tropical Africa’s plant species are at risk of extinction.

Tropical Africa is home to more than 30,000 species of plants, but climate change and human pressures are damaging ecosystems. Knowing which species are ‘at risk of extinction’ allows conservation measures to be targeted. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) provides the conservation status of most vertebrate species. However, plants are much more poorly documented, especially in tropical regions.

Using a new approach based on standard IUCN procedures, researchers assessed the conservation status of Africa’s tropical flora on a continent-wide scale. Thanks to huge digitisation efforts by Meise Botanic Garden and many other natural history collection institutes, researchers can now access almost 600,000 occurrence records of more than 22,000 plant species. These were  combined with geographical data on logging, agriculture, urbanisation, mining and other human impacts to create a map of threatened species. 

The results shocked the researchers, especially as the estimates are conservative and do not yet take the negative effects of future climate change into account. The most vulnerable areas are West African rainforests, southern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Central Tanzania.

Relevant publications: 

Stévart T., Dauby G., Lowry II P.P., Blach-Overgaard A., Droissart V., Harris D.J., Mackinder B.A., Schatz G.E., Sonké B., Sosef M.S.M., Svenning J.-C., Wieringa J.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