Nearly 600 plant species have become extinct in the last 250 years

Almost 600 plant species have disappeared from the wild over the past 250 years, a new research project found.

According to the research, the extinction of seed plants is occurring at a faster rate than the normal turnover of the species. The study shows that the number of extinct plant species is four times higher than previous compilations and twice the combined 271 birds, mammals and amphibians record extinct in the last two-and-a-half centuries. "Every species that becomes extinct is supporting other organisms that also become extinct at the same time, and many we don't even know about before it happens", says Govaerts.

In May, a United Nations report estimated about one million animal and plant species were also threatened with extinction, many within decades.

The lost plants include the Chile sandalwood, which was exploited for essential oils, the banded trinity plant, which spent much of its life underground, and the pink-flowered St Helena olive tree.

It identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers of the crisis, with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the past 10 million years.

What did the study find?

Nearly 600 plant species have been wiped from the planet in the past 250 years, more than twice the number of bird, mammal and amphibian species that have met the same fate, according to a new study.

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The researchers believe these numbers underestimate the true levels of ongoing plant extinction.

Image copyright Richard Wilford Image caption The Chilean crocus: Rediscovered in 2001 after years of searching Why does plant extinction matter?

Scientists, including experts from The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, discovered that 571 species had disappeared in the wild since the middle of the 18th century.

All life on Earth depends on plants, which provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat. "This new understanding of plant extinction will help us predict (and try to predict) future extinctions of plants, as well as other organisms".

What lessons can we learn?

"To do this, we need to support herbaria and the production of plant identification guides, we need to teach our children to see and recognize their local plants and, most importantly, we need botanists for years to come".

Tuesday's report wasn't the only plant study raising alarms.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

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