project news

Plants in Peril

News item submitted by Flora O'Brien
News item dated 28 Sep 2010


A Mangifera flava plant, one of the many endangered species in Cambodia


When you think about conservation, you might consider of the plight of the tiger, or the dwindling panda populations. Plants are generally not on the hot list of flagship species, with the common view that “plants are boring”. Boring, maybe, but they are indisputably essential for life on Earth. Thus, the study conducted by Kew Gardens, the Natural History Museum and the IUCN published today estimating that over a fifth of wild plant species are at risk of becoming extinct is very worrying.

Despite being the basis for all living creatures, plants are often overlooked in conservational debates. However, they could be in as grave danger of biodiversity loss as mammals, and even more threatened than birds, primarily as a result of anthropogenic causes. The recently published Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which comprises the data of 4000 species of plants from five major plant groups (monocots, dicots, bryophytes, pteridophytes and gymnosperms), suggests that 22% of the plant species studied are threatened with extinction. Over half of these species exist only in tropical rainforests, which is perhaps not surprising considering the vast swathes of forests which have been cleared for agriculture and logging. 

The loss of plant biodiversity would doubtless generate a cascade of knock-on effects. Many rainforest birds and animals are dependent on particular plant species for food, and protection from predators through camouflage as a result of years of coevolution. The full extent of the threat to the world’s plant species is not yet fully understood. The situation in South East Asia is no different, with most of the flora remaining understudied. Fortunately, at the end of last year Frontier received a grant from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) to fund a study of endangered flora in Cambodia. In partnership with the Missouri Botanical Gardens, and in collaboration with experts from around the world, our study aims to assess the status and distribution of 32 globally threatened plants species in Cambodia. This is the first study of its kind in Cambodia, aiming to identify those plant species which are of greatest conservation concern, with a potential to also discover other threatened plant species.

Read more about our Cambodia Tropical Wildlife Conservation Project