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A Landmark Study Documents How Global Warming Affects Plants —And Well, It’s Not All Bad

The first ever vegetation State of the Union puts all the world’s plant knowledge in one place

The Drosera magnifica can grow as high as 1.5 meters tall, making it "one of the largest sundews known to science."

The Royal Botanic Gardens of the United Kingdom released a landmark study this week called State of the World’s Plants. It was created to help determine “where more research effort and policy focus is required to preserve and enhance the essential role of plants in underpinning all aspects of human wellbeing,” and the RBG is calling it, “the first document to collate current knowledge on the state of the world’s plants.”

Huzzah for science! Of course in these challenging times marred by news of global warming and shrinking ice caps, there’s plenty of good and bad news to be pulled from a report like this. So we’ll start with some bad. According to the RBG, 21 percent of global plant species are currently threatened with extinction. That means one in five. Then there’s the part about 10 of the world’s 14 biomes experiencing an observable decrease in vegetation productivity between 2000 and 2013.

The study also says that of the 1,771 identified plant areas across the globe, very few have conservation protections in place and as result are “degrading or disappearing entirely” as a result of climate change, land use and disease.

The trunk of a Gilbertiodendron maximum in Gabon, the largest and heaviest of all the newly discovered species.

And for any of you climate trolls out there, the RBG says, “changes to the climate have been apparent at a scale and level of variability not seen in the past 850,000 years.” This has lead researchers the conclusion that many plant species will be surviving on “borrowed time” by 2050. Other terrifying climate related phrases include: “widespread climate-related extinctions are expected” and “Many plants are predicted to be in a so-called ‘extinction debt’ already.” All of this, of course, is expected to result in “serious economic consequences” in addition to the already obvious ecological ones.

Yeah. That’s all very bad. But we promised you good news to, so cheer up a little! In just the past year more than 2,000 new vascular plant species (vegetation with a conducting tissue system that moves water and minerals throughout the plant) were documented over the past year, adding to the 391,000 that are already known to science. Scientists have also succeeded in mapping the genome of 139 vascular plant species. As gene mapping technology improves that number is expected to rise quickly, and the researchers behind The State of the World’s Plants say that is a crucial development for learning how to better preserve and protect the world’s vegetation.

The Begonia ruthiea is one of more than 90 new species of Begonia discovered in Southeast Asia.

Obviously, Earth’s biomes are massive and mysterious entities still filled with plant species man has not yet documented, and the scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens acknowledge this, “There will inevitably be gaps in this report. We cannot claim to have covered all of the evidence currently available.” But this report is just the first of a new annual endeavor to stay abreast of the health and wellness of our planet’s flora.

“By bringing the available information together into one document,” read the report’s opening remarks. “We hope to raise the profile of plants among the global community and to highlight not only what we do know about threats, status and uses, but also what we don’t.”

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