Plant Diversity ›› 2016, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (01): 11-18.

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 Plant diversity in a changing world: status, trends, and conservation needs

Richard T. Corlett   

  1. Center for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Menglun, Yunnan 666303, China
  • Received:2015-10-22 Online:2016-02-25 Published:2016-01-07


The conservation of plants has not generated the sense of urgency—or the funding—that drives the conservation of animals, although plants are far more important for us. There are an estimated 500,000 species of land plants (angiosperms, gymnosperms, ferns, lycophytes, and bryophytes), with diversity strongly concentrated in the humid tropics. Many species are still unknown to science. Perhaps a third of all land plants are at risk of extinction, including many that are undescribed, or are described but otherwise data deficient. There have been few known global extinctions so far, but many additional species have not been recorded recently and may be extinct. Although only a minority of plant species have a specific human use, many more play important roles in natural ecosystems and the services they provide, and rare species are more likely to have unusual traits that could be useful in the future. The major threats to plant diversity include habitat loss, fragmentation, and degradation, overexploitation, invasive species, pollution, and anthropogenic climate change. Conservation of plant diversity is a massive task if viewed globally, but the combination of a well-designed and well-managed protected area system and ex situ gap-filling and back-up should work anywhere. The most urgent needs are for the completion of the global botanical inventory and an assessment of the conservation status of the 94% of plant species not yet evaluated, so that both in and ex situ conservation can be targeted efficiently. Globally, the biggest conservation gap is in the hyperdiverse lowland tropics and this is where attention needs to be focused.

Key words: Land plants, Diversity patterns, Threats, In situ conservation, Ex situ conservation