A fifth of the world’s plants under threat, as report says 391,000 species now known to science

Dave Simpson – 11 May 2016

A ground-breaking report from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has produced an estimate of the number of plants known to science. By searching through existing databases, the researchers have estimated that there are now 390,900 known plant species, of which around 369,400 are flowering plants. But this figure is only those species currently documented: new species are being discovered all the time, including over 2000 in 2015 alone. But more worryingly, it is suggested that 21% of plant species are under threat, from a range of pressures including climate change, habitat loss and invasive species. The invasive species component of the report, which draws heavily on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium, says that nearly 5,000 plant species are documented as invasive, from over 13,000 vascular plant species naturalised outside their native range.

Prof Kathy Willis, director of science at RBG Kew, said: “It’s really important to know how many plant species there are, where they are and the relationship between the groups, because plants are absolutely fundamental to our well-being”

And on invasive species, the head of conservation science at Kew, Dr Colin Clubbe, said that invasive species are one of the biggest challenges for biodiversity. Quantifying the number of species regarded as invasive is a key step towards addressing the problem. “Now that we’ve got this list and this number, it’s certainly a bit like know your enemy,” said Dr Clubbe.

JK

Japanese knotweed, a major invasive
“We know what we are dealing with, we can then look at them, and see what’s similar, what makes a good invasive, and then see how we can use that information to have better management practices in place or recommendations for how you deal with them.”

 
Trade, plant collecting, and movement of people, has led to at least 13,168 species of vascular plants becoming naturalised outside their native range. The report says that they become classed as invasives once they start to compete with native vegetation and spread to a degree that causes damage to the environment, the human economy or human health. The effects on livelihoods, and on ecosystem services such as agriculture, forestry, water and pollinators, can be staggering: the Kew report cites one study as estimating the total costs from all invasive species as nearly 5% of the world economy, and it also quotes CABI research which estimated the impact on the British economy alone as around £1.7 billion every year. Japanese knotweed, one of the most invasive plants in the UK, costs Great Britain over £165 million annually to control.

The Kew report synthesizes invasive species data from the open-access CABI Invasive Species Compendium, the Global Invasive Species Database (GISD), global reviews of invasive trees and shrubs by Rejmánek and Richardson, and Weber’s Invasive Plant Species of the World: a Reference Guide to Environmental Weeds published by CABI in 2003. CABI’s ISC – flagged in the report as “the most comprehensive web-based resource” – has datasheets for 4,841 of the total of 4979 invasive vascular plants in Kew’s consolidated list.

Identifying other threats to plant biodiversity, the report says that farming is the biggest extinction threat, representing 31% of total risk to plants. Logging and the gathering of plants from the wild is responsible for 21.3% of the risk, followed by construction work with 12.8%. The report said that some 1,771 areas of the world have been identified as “important plant areas” but very few have conservation protection measures in place.

Highlighting just how many plant species are already important to humans, the report says that some 17,810 plant species have a medical use, 5,538 are eaten, 3,649 become animal feed and 1,621 are used for fuels. Over 11,000 plant species are used for materials, for example fibres and timber.

“[Plants] provide us with our food, our fuel, our medicines – even controlling our climate” says Professor Willis.

The report can be downloaded in full, or data from individual sections accessed, at the website stateoftheworldplants.com. A symposium on the report is being held at Kew on 11-12 May. Moving forward, the global assessment will now be carried out annually, allowing scientists to monitor how plants are changing over time.

New in July 2015 from the ISC

In July 2015 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

July invasivesAkebia quinata (five-leaf akebia) – a highly invasive, aggressive vine native to East Asia, A. quinata has been introduced as an ornamental to Canada, Europe, Oceania and the USA. It can outcompete native understory plants and young trees, and its dense growth can block sunlight and prevent the germination of native plants.

Geophagus brasiliensis (pearl cichlid) – an ornamental freshwater fish native to southeast Brazil, G. brasiliensis has been introduced to Australia, Florida, the Philippines and Taiwan. Its fast growth, opportunistic diet and broad environmental tolerances have allowed it to colonize new waterways, particularly artificial and disturbed habitats.

Rudbeckia laciniata (thimbleweed)R. laciniata is an ornamental perennial plant that has been introduced to China, Japan, New Zealand and Europe. Native to eastern North America, thimbleweed grows best in bright, humid areas, such as wetlands, forest edges and roadsides. By producing lots of seeds and spreading from rhizome fragments, it can form dense monocultures which outcompete native plants.

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Brugmansia suaveolens (white angel’s trumpet)
Chrysemys picta (painted turtle)
Macaranga tanarius (parasol leaf tree)
Paederia foetida (skunkvine)
Umbra pygmaea (eastern mudminnow)

New in January 2015 from the ISC

In January 2015 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc.

Clerodendrum thomsoniae Invasive Species Compendium datasheet
Clerodendrum thomsoniae Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Clerodendrum thomsoniae (bleeding glory bower)native to West Africa, this vine has been widely cultivated in tropics and subtropics worldwide, and is naturalised in many places, including the USA, Australia and the Galapagos Islands. Despite being related to some particularly serious invasives, such as C. chinense and C. quadriloculare, the impacts of bleeding glory bower are so far limited.

Cortaderia jubata (purple pampas grass)familiar to many of us as a garden ornamental, C. jubata is a multipurpose tussock grass native to South America. Surprise surprise, this towering, fast-growing, prolific plant has become a serious invasive in several places around the world, displacing native vegetation and suppressing the growth of young trees. Dense stands of C. jubata can also pose a fire hazard.

Opuntia monacantha (common prickly pear) – another introduced Opuntia, another tale of woe. Opuntia monacantha has been introduced around the world as a fruit and fodder plant since the 1700s. Its ability to regrow from broken and scattered cladodes allows it to quickly form dense, impenetrable thickets. Fortunately, biocontrol of the common prickly pear has proved successful in several countries.

New in November 2014 from the ISC

In November 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Clerodendrum indicum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet
Clerodendrum indicum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Clerodendrum indicum (Turk’s turban) – this small shrub, native to temperate and tropical Asia, has been deliberately introduced principally to the Americas as an ornamental. Having long since escaped from cultivation, it is now established in the neotropics. Rapid growth and the ability to reproduce by seeds, rooted cuttings and suckers have contributed to its spread, although C. indicum does not appear to be as invasive as other species in the Clerodendrum cohort.

Potamopyrgus antipodarum (New Zealand mudsnail) – native to New Zealand, this aquatic snail has been introduced to Europe, North America, Australia and Asia. Females are parthenogenetic, meaning they can reproduce without males. This allows a new population to be founded by a single female – and with an average of 230 offspring per adult per year, P. antipodarum can quickly become very abundant. Its ability to survive desiccation for several days allows this snail to be spread by birds and anglers. It is currently considered invasive in Spain, USA and Australia.

Cosmos caudatus (wild cosmos) – thanks to its prolific seed production wild cosmos can cause chaos in the tropics, where its fast growth and height (up to 2.5 m tall) makes it difficult to control. Thought to be native to southern Mexico, it is now found in Asia, Africa, throughout the Americas, Australia and some Pacific islands. C. caudatus is particularly adept at spreading in disturbed areas, pastures and roadsides.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Cyclosorus parasiticus (parasitic maiden fern)
Vulpia myuros (annual fescue)
Clerodendrum bungei (rose glorybower)

New in October 2014 from the ISC

In October 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Silybum marianum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet
Silybum marianum Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Silybum marianum (variegated thistle) – this large, aggressive thistle was already recognised as a serious invasive way back in the 1800s. Native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia and Russia, S. marianum is now present on every continent except Antarctica. Standing up to two metres tall, and armed with a spiky flowerhead and prickly leaves, the thistle can outcompete native plants, swamp farmland and impede the movement of people and animals. If eaten, S. marinaum can cause potentially fatal nitrate poisoning.

Lumbricus terrestris (lob worm) – after more than 2000 years of human-mediated introductions, the humble earthworm is now found in South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and North America, where it has picked up the exciting name nightcrawler. When introduced to an environment lacking native earthworms, L. terrestris can dramatically alter soil profiles. Thick leaf mats are quickly converted to humus, depriving native invertebrates of a habitat, altering the microbial community and changing the chemistry of the forest floor.

Cestrum nocturnum (night jessamine) – native to Central America, this showy and fragrant but toxic shrub is now widespread throughout the Old and New World tropics, where it forms dense thickets that crowd out native flora. Its small and profuse seed means there is a high risk of further introductions. C. nocturnum is known to be invasive in Hawaii, the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Western Samoa, Tonga, New Caledonia and New Zealand.

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Acacia hockii (white thorn acacia)
Amaranthus dubius (spleen amaranth)
Dipsacus fullonum (common teasel)
Ehrharta erecta (panic veldtgrass)
Erodium botrys (long-beaked stork’s bill)
Erodium cicutarium (common storksbill)
Gaillardia pulchella (Indian blanket)
Glechoma hederacea (ground ivy)
Hypochaeris radicata (cat’s ear)
Juncus planifolius (broadleaf rush)
Lactuca floridana (woodland lettuce)
Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass)
Lonicera maackii (Amur honeysuckle)
Malva pusilla (round-leaved mallow)
Marrubium vulgare (horehound)
Melilotus albus (honey clover)
Mentha pulegium (pennyroyal)
Nasturtium microphyllum (one-row watercress)
Odontonema callistachyum (purple firespike)
Oryza barthii (African annual wild rice)
Oxalis corniculata (creeping woodsorrel)
Parentucellia viscosa (yellow glandweed)
Paspalidium geminatum (Egyptian paspalidium)
Persicaria punctata (dotted smartweed)
Polycarpon tetraphyllum (fourleaf allseed)
Rosa multiflora (multiflora rose)
Rubus rosifolius (roseleaf raspberry)
Sanchezia parvibracteata (sanchezia)
Silene gallica (common catchfly)
Stenotaphrum secundatum (buffalo grass)
Tibouchina herbacea (cane tibouchina)

Invasive myrtle rust impacts discussed at international forestry congress

CABI has recently published a comprehensive review and update of its ISC datasheet on the globally important pathogen Puccinia psidii, commonly known as myrtle rust or guava rust. This problematic fungus is of worldwide importance and is capable of infecting a wide range of hosts. To date it has over 440 host species; affecting many plants in the Myrtaceae family, including threatened and endangered species (see IUCN Red List of Threatened Species). Severe impacts have been recorded in amenity plantings, commercial plantations and the native environment.

Once established in a new country myrtle rust can spread quickly and this has been the case in many countries including Jamaica, Hawaii, Australia and New Caledonia. Its successful global and local dispersal through urediniospores and human-aided movement of diseased plants, combined with its massive host range make myrtle rust an effective and devastating invasive. It was first identified as an invasive pathogen in the 1930s when it caused extensive damage to allspice (Pimenta dioica) plantations in Jamaica.

Puccinia psidii on Melaleuca quinquenervia in Australia
Effects of the invasive myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii) on the paperbark tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia) in Australia (July, 2011)

Discussions of myrtle rust impacts and a variety of other forestry related issues are currently underway at the 24th IUFRO World Congress, which is being held from the 5th-11th October 2014 in Salt Lake City, USA.

IUFRO is the International Union of Forest Research Organizations – the world’s forest network. The organisation promotes global cooperation on forest-related research and is composed of over 15,000 scientists from 650 member organizations in more than 100 countries.

The Congress is the largest forest research conference worldwide and is held every 5 years. It brings together delegates from varying forestry backgrounds and this year over 3500 scientists, researchers, graduates, decision makers, policy makers and land managers are expected to attend the event, which is focused on “Sustaining Forests, Sustaining People: the Role of Research”. Over the course of the week a number of plenary, sub-plenary, technical and poster sessions will cover themes, such as:

Under the theme of Forest Health in a Changing World, a session dedicated to emerging invasive forest pathogens will see notable speakers discuss the impacts of myrtle rust in the southern hemisphere, including its effects on diversity in both Australia and Hawaii (see p103-104 of the Scientific Program). This session will also focus on ash dieback and the invasive pathogen Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus, which causes the disease in ash trees. This pathogen has recently been causing severe impacts across Europe.

For full details of the distributions, impacts, descriptions (and much more!) of both ash dieback and myrtle rust you can access the fully updated and peer reviewed datasheets on CABI’s open access Invasive Species Compendium.

To keep up to date with all the latest news from the 24th IUFRO World Congress, visit the blog here.

New in August 2014 from the ISC

In August 2014 the following datasheets were published on CABI’s Invasive Species Compendium (ISC). You can explore the open-access ISC here: www.cabi.org/isc

Lepus europaeus (European hare) – the European hare has been widely introduced by humans from its original range in continental Europe and has successfully established populations in South Sweden, North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and several Mediterranean and tropical islands. In its introduced range it can cause significant agricultural damage and compete or hybridise with native fauna. Conversely, populations have declined across much of its native range.

Lepus europaeus Invasive Species Compendium datasheet
Lepus europaeus Invasive Species Compendium datasheet

Myxobolus cerebralis (whirling disease agent) – this member of the parasitic myxozoan group causes whirling disease of salmon and trout, which causes fish to swim erratically, making feeding and avoiding predators difficult. M. cerebralis was first reported in Germany in the late 1890s, but, acting in cahoots with its invertebrate host, the sludge worm Tubifex tubifex, it has since spread throughout Europe. The international fish trade has helped it reach Africa, Lebanon, New Zealand and North America, where it may pose a risk to native fish species.

Ardisia crenata (coral berry) – native to east and southeast Asia, this evergreen shrub has introduced around the world and is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant. It invades forest margins and understory, where it can reduce light levels by 70%, thereby shading out native plants.

 

Other invasive species datasheets recently published include:

Alysicarpus vaginalis (alyce clover)

Caesalpinia pulcherrima (peacock flower)

Cortaderia jubata (purple pampas grass)

Juncus planifolius (broadleaf rush)

Lolium perenne (perennial ryegrass)

Melilotus albus (honey clover)

Mentha pulegium (pennyroyal)

Nasturtium microphyllum (one-row watercress)

Persicaria punctata (dotted smartweed)