Main Causes of Endangered Plant Species
There are a number of reasons that may lead to a species becoming endangered – a stage when the species population is so small that any further loss may lead to its extinction. These reasons, while they may be natural changes in the environment over a period of time, have increased multi fold in recent years due to the large and unregulated tampering of natural environment by humans. The broad reasons for the endangerment of animals and plants are very similar but while hope still exists for animals, the conservation process for plants is relatively difficult. There are two important reasons for this,
- Statistics for animal population in an area are easier to gather than plants and therefore animals can still be relocated before the threat increases on their population, while many endangered plants especially in the wild can go unnoticed.
- Animals themselves can move to a different locality if they understand there is a threat to their survival. Plant species almost always die when calamity strikes and can be relocated with difficulty because of the specific climatic and environmental conditions needed for their growth.
A recent study conducted by American and British researchers confirms that one third of flowering plants could become extinct even before they are discovered and studied by scientists.
It is therefore imperative to increase awareness and stop the causes that may lead to endangered plant species. Some of the important factors leading to endangered plants species are:
This is a broad topic as there are a multitude of reasons that may lead to the destruction of habitat and thus the destruction of the suitable environment needed for the plant to grow. Some of the activities that may lead to habitat loss are,
Agriculture – Many natural forest areas are cleared for creating more farm land. In one brutal swipe many plants and their habitats are destroyed. E.g. Western prairie fringed orchid Platanthera praeclara and the Prairie bush-clover Lespedeza leptostachya are threatened species due to the habitat loss for agricultural development in parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Virginia.
Pasture Land – As is the case with agricultural land, the need to feed livestock, makes deforestation a necessity. The threat to plant species also increases when animals graze and feed on them.
Wild Fires – Although this is considered to be a natural phenomenon which is actually key to the survival of many plant species, like boronia; Boronia keysii found in Queensland regenerates after a fire, many believe the frequency and the pattern of wild fires have increased over the years due to factors like global warming. There are also times when humans intentionally start a fire to clean wild growths rapidly.
Severe Drought – Droughts and floods are natural phenomenon too, but with climate change, the severity of these phenomena has increased incredibly, giving rise to many situations over the years where plant species have been totally eradicated in an area badly hit by drought or flooding.
Urban Development – More homes, more roads, and more industries; all need more land and the cost of this urban development has been paid by plants and animals species whose homes have been destroyed to accommodate more and more human beings. And the process does not end there, as activities like quarrying, lumbering, etc., keep destroying the natural habitat and the environment continuously. Plants like American hart’s - tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium var. Americana and Lakeside daisy Hymenoxys acaulis var. Glabra have paid the price of this kind of development.
Shoreline Activities – There are quite a number of plants that have been threatened by human shoreline activities; the Houghton’s goldenrod Solidago houghtonii once abundant along the northern shores of Lake Michigan and Huron or the Pitcher’s thistle Cirsium pitcher found in the dune areas of the great lakes of Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.
Collecting rare native plants for nurseries, floral and bush tucker trades is considered a great threat to the plants, especially those that are taken away from the environment they grow in. Rare species of orchids and ferns are very often the varieties of plants that are traded and although the trading and harvesting of any native plant species is regulated under the Nature Conservation Act, the deals keep happening, leading to endangerment of plant species.
Introduction of Exotic Species
Plants thrive in a specific geographical area with specific climatic and environmental conditions supporting their growth. When outside species of plants or animals are introduced into this ecosystem, either intentionally or unknowingly, the critical balance of nature can change. The process of destruction of the native species may be rapid or slow, but there is always a change which leads to the population crisis of the native plant species. E.g., for the last centuries there have been many animal species like rats, rabbits, cats etc., that have been introduced into new environments in new countries and continents. This has caused ecological balance to change and in order to create room for the new species, native species have been eradicated. The danger becomes all the more serious when the introduced species starts preying on the native species.
Another added threat that may come along with introduction of exotic species to a new environment is that there may be many disease causing pathogens too that may get introduced into a new habitat. The native plants do not have the natural genetic protection against the diseases and therefore they are the first to die. With localised population of a particular plant, this is a calamity that may completely wipe out the species from the world.
With the rise in pollutants in the atmosphere and water bodies, there are many species of plants that are facing threat of extinction. Apart from the usual contamination, what plants also face is major chemical pollution spread by the non - doctrinal use of herbicides and pesticides. There are a number of pesticides that may have helped the farmer but have led to the death of other useful plant species like the Northern Wild Monkshood, Aconitum noveboracense found in Iowa, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin.
It is thus clear that plants, the very harbinger of growth and life, face a distinct threat from many human activities. The situation is critical because plants are much more vulnerable to changes than animals. If conservation efforts are not made at a hurricane speed, the future is dark for many plant species.
Photo by kaibara87 and ktylerconk via cc/Flickr