Human activity is pushing almost a third of the world’s tree species toward extinction, and many are now barely hanging on, a new report concludes.
“According to the State of the World’s Trees report, 17,500 tree species—some 30% of the total—are at risk of extinction, while 440 species have fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild,” reports Reuters.
The report, by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), notes that there are 58,497 species of trees worldwide, all with ecological, cultural, and economic importance, and all helping to mitigate the climate crisis through carbon storage. And because of their critical role supporting natural ecosystems, the extinction of one species can cause the loss of many others.
“The interlinked biodiversity crisis and challenge of global climate change cannot be addressed without informed management of tree species,” say the report authors.
Tropical regions of Central America, South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa will be most severely affected by this loss because of the high species diversity of their woodlands. Magnolia and dipterocarp species, which commonly grow in Southeast Asian forests, are among those at highest risk of extinction.
Of the top three main human caused threats described in the report, forest clearance for crop production affected the largest percentage of tree species (29%), followed by logging (27%) and livestock agriculture (14%). Climate change contributes about 4% of species loss.
Rising seas and severe weather directly endanger 180 species, threatening especially those on islands. The added risk to island trees is particularly alarming because many islands host species found nowhere else.
“Every tree species matters—to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world,” BGCI Secretary General Paul Smith told Reuters.