Tree species around the world are in trouble. This past week United Kingdom-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International published a State of the World’s Trees report, which was the culmination of five years of research with a bunch of field and academic partners to identify major gaps in tree conservation efforts. Global Tree Assessment examined the world’s 60,000 species of trees and found that 17,500 (or 30-percent) are at risk of extinction. And that’s twice the number of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined, the BGCI report says.
Over 440 of the species are on the brink of extinction, which means they have fewer than 50 tree specimens left in the wild. Among the most vulnerable tree species are magnolias and dipterocarps, with oaks, maple, and ebonies also at risk. Dangers that threaten tree life include being taken down so that the land can be used for agriculture (such as for palm oil plantations), legal and illegal logging (such as the decimation of Madagascar ebony and rosewood and Caribbean and Brazilian mahogany trees), and livestock farming. Urbanization or clearing of trees for residential and commercial buildings, affects 13 percent of the tree species, and fires affect the same percentage. The BGCI report shows that 1 in 5 tree species are directly used by humans, for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture, and more.
Climate change—including rising temperatures and weather changes—is also threatening the trees as many species are losing areas of suitable habitat. Sea levels rising is affecting magnolias in the Caribbean as well as other places, and the increased occurrence of fires in Madagascar, Australia, the U.S., and in South America also threatens species of trees, including oak trees.
|Top six biodiverse (tree species rich) countries in the world|
|Country||Number of native tree species||Number of threatened tree species||Percentage of threatened tree species||Examples of threatened trees or tree groups|
|Brazil||8847||1788||20%||Big Leaf Mahogany, rosewood, Eugenia|
|Colombia||5868||834||14%||Magnolia, Cedrela spp.|
|Indonesia||5716||1306||23%||Dipterocarps, cinnamon, agarwood, ramin|
|Malaysia||5422||1295||24%||Dipterocarps, cinnamon, ramin, Quercus (oaks) spp.|
|Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of||4812||614||13%||Ilex (hollies) spp.|
|China||4608||890||19%||Magnolia, camellia, maples|
Chart source: BGCI
WHY LOSING TREE SPECIES MATTERS
Trees are the backbones of our natural ecosystem and they store 50-percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon. They help offset devasting effects of hurricanes, typhoons, and other severe weather. They also provide food and habitat for birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and microorganisms. And as the BCGI report says, “The extinction of a single tree species could cause a domino effect, catalyzing the loss of many other species.”
BGCI Secretary-General Paul Smith said, ““Every tree species matters – to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world.”
WAYS YOU CAN BECOME A CHAMPION OF TREES
The best thing you can do is to support a tree planting program and help plant native and threatened tree species. You can do so on your own property or through programs at the National Forest Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, or The Nature Conservancy, whose goal is to plant one billion trees.
You can also read a lot more about trees so you can better understand them and their roles in the ecosystem. We’ve compiled a list of recommended books that will blow your mind (did you know trees communicate with each other underground and some species know how to ward off predators?) and enlighten you.
- The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate by Peter Wohlleben (published in 2016 by Greystone Books)
- The Journeys of Trees: A Story about Forests, People, and the Future by Zach St. George (published in 2020 by W.W. Norton)
- Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard (published in 2021 by Knopf)
- The Heartbeat of Trees: Embracing Our Ancient Bond with the Forest and Nature by Peter Wohlleben (published in 2021 by Greystone Books).
Do you have any books you’d add to our list? If so, add them to the comments. The trees need each of us to help save them. Will you do your part?