The critically endangered plant Monodora hastipetala is found in Tanzania.
A third of plants in the tropical region of Africa are potentially threatened with extinction. Human activities, including increasing deforestation and climate change, are thought to be responsible.
If species do become extinct it will be a huge strain on local populations, says Thomas Couvreur at the French National Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), as biodiversity will plunge.
“There are a lot of reasons why biodiversity, not just in tropical Africa, but all around the world, is important to protect,” says Couvreur. “Regions with higher biodiversity harbour less diseases, for example.”
Couvreur and his team assessed more than 22,000 plants across the region and ranked them as likely threatened with extinction, potentially threatened with extinction or potentially not threatened with extinction. They found that 32 per cent of the species are likely or potentially facing extinction.
The tropical region of Africa extends south of the Sahara, but excludes southern Africa. The 10 countries with the highest proportion of threatened species are Sierra Leone, Gambia, Ethiopia, Liberia, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Ghana, Benin and Uganda. This is primarily being driven by deforestation, for example to clear land for farming, says Couvreur.
Couvreur hopes that assessing the conservation status of plants using a standardised system will accelerate the process by which potentially threatened species can be added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Species on the list receive special protection.
Plants are of vital importance to ecosystems on Earth, but less than 8 per cent of the estimated 352,000 plant species worldwide have had their conservation status assessed by the IUCN, say the researchers. This is compared with 86 per cent of mammals and 61 per cent of birds.
“The results are pretty grim reading,” says Simon Lewis at the University of Leeds, UK. “But with the careful expansion of protected areas, many of these threatened species could survive.”