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Report: one in five plant species threatened

A new report has warned that more than 20 percent of the world's plant species risk extinction due to loss of habitat. The warning comes from the first global report of its kind from the Royal Botanic Gardens in London.

The "State of the World's Plants" released on Monday was drawn up by botanists at Kew Gardens in west London, which has one of the largest collections in its greenhouses and sprawling gardens in the world - and the predictions are alarming.

Experts said many parts of the world were suffering rapid change, such as from the razing of tropical forests to make way for farms and cities as well as climate change from human activity, especially the burning of fossil fuels.

"There's a huge change going on, mainly agricultural change and land for urbanization," said Kathy Willis, the center's director of science. The report, meant as a first annual audit of the plant kingdom and omits algae and mosses.

The 80-page report is intended to become a database and global reference point as it will be published annually and allow for comparisons on preserving the world's plants.

"This has been a huge undertaking... We engaged with more than 80 scientists to pull this together," said Steve Bachman, one of the report's authors.

In total, 391,000 types of plants are known to science, from tiny orchids to giant sequoia trees.

Thousands of new plants catalogued every year

The report predicts that 21 percent of all the species are threatened with extinction. Such predictions are nothing new and represent a growing scientific consensus on the fragility of the planet's ecology.

The report also said about 2,000 new plants are being discovered annually, such as a 1.5 meter (5 feet) tall carnivorous plant on a mountaintop in Brazil in 2015.

Some 17,810 plant species can be used medicinally, 5,538 are food and 3,649 are animal feed; little-known plants might have unknown benefits, such as resilience to diseases, though would be of no use if they disappear before they can be cataloged.

Plant diversity is also key to food security, experts have warned.

"If we completely clear the land and have a type of monoculture what happens when a new plant disease emerges and wipes out the crop entirely?" asked Steve Bachman, a species conservation researcher.

Past studies have estimated that 10 percent of the world's plant species are threatened with extinction. Others set the rate as high as 62 percent.

jar/bw (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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