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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Status of Plants & Animals, 2016

Status of Plants & Animals, 2016

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Friday, October 28, 2016/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, birds, marine mammals, marine life, sustainability, environment, plants

Two reports have been released presenting the status of the world's plants and animals. Serious downward pressure on global wildlife is measured in both studies.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has issued Living Planet Report, 2016 that documents declines in wildlife populations since 1970 of between 36% to 81% in all terrestrial, fresh water, and marine species investigated. The WWF created a Living Planet Index (LPI) to measure the trends occurring in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish worldwide, in some instances for the very first time.  measures trends in thousands of populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe shows a decline of 58 per cent between 1970 and 2012.

The causes for the population declines are four-fold: habitat loss and degredation; agricultural food production systems; species overexploitation including illegal wildlife crime; and climate change.

WWF estimates that potentially: "We could witness a two-thirds decline in the half-century from 1970 to 2020 – unless we act to reform our food and energy systems and meet commitments on addressing climate change, protecting biodiversity, and supporting sustainable development."

Their complete Living Planet Report 2016 is available here.

Similarly, the Royal Botanic Gardens (KEW) in the UK has issued The State of the World's Plants that provides the first ever baseline assessment of the knowledge on the Earth's plant diversity, the global threats they face, and policies that could protect them. Like the status report on animals, KEW identified habitat loss from tropical deforestation and conversion of land for agricultural production; regional fires; over-collection and the illicit trade in rare species; invasive species both animal and plant; and climate change as driving forces to the loss of plants worldwide.

In their introduction, the investigators said plant diversity is now determined to be greater than 390,000 vascular plant species known of which 369,000 are flowering plants with ~2000 new species added each year. In 2015 alone, a massive tree legume; more than 90 species of Begonias: 13 species of onions, and a relative of the sweet potato were discovered. While most of these new plants were identified during field studies, one of the largest carnivorous plants anywhere, a ~5 feet tall Sundew, was first identified from a post on Facebook, the social media website.

     Giant Sundew (Drosera magnifica) Mountain bog, Brazil              Ochna dolicharthros, Coastal shrubland, Mozambique

On the genetic level, the report sited that only know a fraction of the plant genetic diversity and their genome sequences is known, just 139 plant species to date. Plant uses include 31,000 species documented as medicines, for food, fobers, building materials, and flavorings while over 3500 wild relatives of crop plants are prioritised for collecting and preservation in genebanks. KEW acknowledged large parts of the world are still little known botanically and plant identification in these areas is critical.

The enitre State of the World's Plants is available here.

These new WWF and KEW reports should be valuable resources for anyone interested in environmental conservation and biodiversity protection. It will take actions on multiple levels to convert their recommendations into effective responses.

WHB

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