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Over 20,000 plant species to go extinct since humans don’t need them anymore – India Today

Humans have had an impact on Earth. This impact is now visible in the form of climate change, global warming, rising sea temperatures, and extreme weather events. In research that catalogs over 80,000 plant species, scientists have found that most of them, over 20,000, will go extinct thanks to their minimal usefulness to humans.

The study that categorises plant species worldwide finds that on this human-dominated planet, many more species of plants are poised to “lose” rather than “win.” Researchers suggest that In a rapidly changing world, species may tolerate shifting conditions, adapt, or migrate to new habitats. Species that benefit humankind may have an additional advantage of survival.

“Those that cannot tolerate, adapt, migrate, or prove useful will be the ultimate losers in the Anthropocene and may become extinct,” the report states. The findings of the study have been published in a paper in Plants People Planet, classifying a significant portion of plant species as winners or losers.

SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Naturalist Charles Darwin, in his theory of evolution, has proposed that evolution works on the theory of survival of the fittest. This means that individuals in a population, or community, are more likely to survive if they are fit in a genetic sense. The new study working on similar lines indicates that human choices now largely dictate the environmental conditions across much of the globe and, as a result, species of plants and animals can survive or will go extinct.

The Amazon rainforest. (File Pic)

“Species lucky enough to be directly or indirectly aided by human activities are likely to survive and can be thought of as “winners,” while those that are pushed to ecological irrelevance or extinction by those same activities are the ultimate “losers” in evolutionary terms,” researchers at the Smithsonian said in a statement.

MORE LOSERS THAN WINNERS

Researchers place 86,592 species of vascular plants—a large group of plants that have vascular tissue that transport water, nutrients, and other substances—into the eight categories that describe their prospects for survival. These categories include winners useful to humans and winners not useful to humans, losers useful to humans and losers not useful to humans, and currently neutral species.

Summary of winners and losers of vascular plant diversity. (Source: Plants People Planet)

“The results suggest that currently, many more species are losers than winners and that if the tentative winners and potential losers realize their projected trajectories, losers in the future will continue to greatly outnumber future winners,” the paper read.

John Kress, botany curator emeritus at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, who led the study said that 86,592 species might sound a large number but it is actually just under 30% of the nearly 300,000 known species of vascular plants. Kress and Krupnick categorized 20,293 species of plants as losers, with the vast majority of those losing species being identified as not useful to humans. By contrast, the researchers found just 6,913 species of winners, with all but 164 of those species having some human use.

Species that benefit humankind may have an additional advantage of survival. (File Pic)

“Now and in the future, plants have to adapt to the environment humans have created or they will go extinct. Our results suggest that this means the plant communities of the future will be more homogenized than those of today,” Gary Krupnick, head of the museum’s plant conservation unit said in a statement.

Changing climate and environmental conditions due to human activities is set to put in motion several triggers that will be highly challenging for plant and animal species to adapt to, hinting at more extinctions in the future to come.

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