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Study: Palm trees are at risk of extinction

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Palm trees are hardy perennials. There they are on picturesque sandy beaches across much of the world, giving them picturesque contrasts. However, this apparent ubiquity of palm trees hides an alarming truth: nearly 1,000 species of palm trees are at risk of extinction across the planet.

A team of scientists came to this conclusion by studying the conservation status of nearly 1,900 species of palm trees using artificial intelligence. They found that more than half of them are threatened or endangered.

“We need to do everything we can to protect biodiversity, which encompasses over a thousand species of palm trees that we now know may be threatened,” says Sidonie Bellot, a scientist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, who led the study. studying .

Plants belonging to the palm family are found in 227 regions and the level of threat faced by most of these plants has not been clearly understood, despite palm trees being well represented on the International Union for Human Rights Red List.Conservation of Nature, Scientists Say .

A scale study in palm trees

To better understand the scale, the researchers used artificial intelligence and data available from the red list examine how extinction risks relate to the distribution and ecology of palm trees.

They also combined new data with existing Red List assessments to determine the risk of extinction for 1,889 species, or 75% of the palm family. More than half of these species, or 56%, may be threatened with extinction, which when extrapolated to the entire family means more than 1,000 species in total.

“This is a little less than extrapolations based on the Red List assessment alone, but it is still very concerning given the many interactions between palm trees and other living things,” says Bellot. “These interactions range from the fungi and insects that live on them, to the mammals and birds that eat their fruit, to the large numbers of people who rely on palm products.”

Using this new knowledge, ecologists can identify endangered species to enhance conservation efforts, particularly in Madagascar, New Guinea, the Philippines, Hawaii, Borneo, Jamaica, Vietnam, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Sulawesi, all priority regions for conservation. palm conservation.

“These regions are home to between 12 and 291 species of palm trees where more than 40% of the evolutionarily distinct, functionally distinct and/or used species may be threatened. Likewise, another 15 regions were identified where there are less than 10 species of palm trees, but the threat of extinction is equally high”, explain the scientists.

Iconic but also useful plants

“Palm trees are the most emblematic group of plants in the tropics and also one of the most useful. After this study, we have a much better idea of ​​how many and which species of palm trees are threatened,” says Rodrigo Cámara-Leret, principal investigator at the University of Zurich.

“We hope that the prioritized list we provide of endangered useful palm trees and their non-threatened alternatives can foster collaboration among all stakeholders and accelerate action to conserve them,” adds the scientist.

By Daniel T. Cross. Article in English

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