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July 22, 2019

Earth’s Threatened Trees | IUCN Red List Update


Bushmeat hunting, habitat loss and overfishing are pushing thousands of species towards extinction.

But often overlooked are Earth’s threatened trees, more than 5,000 species of which have been added to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Extinction now threatens a third of all assessed species. The list, published last week, adds almost 9,000 new species bringing the total to 105,732 species threatened by climate change and human activity1.

Rainforest canopy, Peru

Millions of species live on Earth, many undiscovered by humans. But that doesn’t mean that they are infinite in number, or that we can afford to lose them at this continuing rate. Each army of ant and type of tree is integral to a healthy, functioning ecosystem.

This report is yet another environmental wake-up call; not a single species was recorded as having improved in its endangered status. And it’s also a reminder that Earth’s trees can’t migrate when threatened, nor are they immune to the same human-induced threats that are diminishing the multi-legged species. We all rely on trees for oxygen, carbon sequestration, and innumerable other ecosystem services, and must take action to halt their further loss.

More than 5,000 trees from 180 countries have been added to the Red List this year, contributing significantly towards the Global Tree Assessment goal of assessing all tree species in the world by the end of 2020.

The Red List now includes assessments of the majority of dry forest trees in Madagascar. These species are highly exploited for their precious wood for timber, charcoal and agriculture, with over 90% of them now threatened. 

The American elm has entered the red list for the first time as endangered. The once common tree has declined over decades due to an invasive fungal pathogen, Dutch Elm Disease. 

Also now on the list is a West African evergreen tree which grows up to 18 metres tall. It’s now listed as endangered, with fewer than 250 mature individuals estimated throughout its range, including 180 mature trees in Guinea1.

coconut palm tree, Papua New Guinea

It is imperative that we not only halt the loss of tree species diversity but that we restore habitats with a diverse range of tree species where these have already been degraded by human activities,” – Paul Smith, Botanic Gardens Conservation International2.

If we are to keep wildlife habitat preserved, and see rainforests with their myriad of tree species past the end of this century, we cannot postpone effective forest conservation. The whole world must do all we can to keep Earth’s mega-diverse ecosystems standing strong. 

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