The 18% of tree species in India are threatened with extinction; 41 extinct in the Indo-Malay region
About 18% of India’s tree species are considering the possibility of extinction, according to a new assessment published by London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International. India has 2,603 tree species, of which 650 are endemic or native to parts of India. 469 of Indian tree species are threatened.
The Global Tree Assessment, which has been undertaken over the past five years by 500 experts to compile information on extinction risk for 58,497 tree species worldwide, found that 30% of tree species trees are threatened with extinction. He also found that at least 142 tree species are already extinct in the wild. The report warned of concerns about the collapse of ecosystems globally due to increasing loss of tree diversity and massive tree mortality in some areas.
The main threats to tree species are deforestation for various projects; other forms of habitat loss, logging, medicine, etc. and the spread of invasive pests and diseases. The climate crisis is also having a measurable impact, the assessment warned.
In the Indo-Malay region, which covers India, 41 tree species are extinct, the highest number in the world compared to other regions. About 3,819 species are threatened and 1,068 species are near threatened, among the 13,739 species in the Indo-Malay region.
The greatest number of tree species is found in the Neotropics (Central and South America – 23,631 tree species), followed by Indo-Malaysia (tropical Asia – 13,739 species) and Afrotropics (Africa south of the Sahara, including Madagascar – 9,237 species).
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The country with the most tree diversity is Brazil with 8,847 tree species, followed by Colombia. New Zealand, Madagascar and New Caledonia have the highest proportion of endemic tree species with over 90% of species not found anywhere else. The large megadiverse countries (Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, etc.) have a large number of tree species as well as a large number of endangered species. The proportion of threatened tree species in India is also above the global average of 11%.
Some of the best-known species are on the verge of extinction. For example, agarwood trees in India produce a resin used in perfumes, incense and medicines, and the huge demand for isresin has led to the decline of populations of eight Aquilaria species and 15 Gonystylus species to the point that they are now classified as threatened by the International Red List of the Union for the conservation of nature (IUCN).
Several species of Eucalyptus in Australia are threatened; Diospyros egrettarum, endemic to Mauritius is critically endangered, threatened by invasive alien plant species; Malagasy species of Diospyros and Dalbergia have been severely exploited to supply the Chinese market, as have Dalbergia species from Central America, according to the report.
A biodiversity crisis
The world is facing a biodiversity crisis and it is estimated that around one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction according to assessments by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in 2019.
“Trees are very visible in most landscapes and are excellent indicators of biodiversity. Concern over ecosystem collapse is increasing, due to the growing recognition that the process can be very brutal, as illustrated by the bleaching and death of large parts of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016/17 ”, states The report.
There have been a series of major large-scale disruptive events, such as the unprecedented fires in California, southern Australia, Indonesia and the Amazon in recent years. At the same time, large areas of forest are suffering episodes of mass mortality due to other factors, including drought and heat stress and the increased incidence of pests and diseases. Large-scale tree mortality is occurring in many parts of the world, including the severe loss of Morocco’s endangered Atlas cedar, potentially leading to ecosystem collapse, the report adds.
“The rapid decline of dominant tree species currently assessed as ‘Least Concern’ may also trigger ecosystem collapse in large areas, such as Pinus tabuliformis mortality on 0.5 million hectares in the central-eastern China and the high mortality of Nothofagus dombeyi in Patagonia in South America. Many of the best-documented examples come from North America, including the death of> 1 million hectares of several species of spruce in Alaska,> 10 million hectares of Pinus contorta in British Columbia, 1 million of ‘hectares of Populus tremuloides in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and> 1 million hectares of Pinus edulis in the southwestern United States, ”writes Adrian Newton, University of Bournemouth and contributor to the report.
Unlike the extinction of species, ecosystems that have collapsed do not disappear, but transform into another type of ecosystem due to anthropogenic pressures and stress. “Wherever trees are found, they support a wide range of other species from their position at the base of trophic pyramids in ecological networks. For example, 2,300 species are associated with native oaks in the UK. If the species at the base of the trophic pyramids become extinct, it could lead to a cascade of extinction potentially leading to ecosystem collapse, ”the report said. Entire communities of trees and other associated species can be threatened simultaneously.
The fallout in India
Indian experts point to the measures taken to protect biodiversity, but are also worried.
Bivash Pandav, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society, said: “India has a very well established network of protected areas (PAs) which encompass almost 5% of India’s land mass. These PAs backed by strong legislation are the country’s biodiversity hot spots. In addition, community owned lands in large parts of India Nortradt are also major sources of biodiversity. Legislation such as Forest Conservation Law, Wildlife Protection Law and Biodiversity Law are primarily responsible for protecting India’s rich biodiversity.
But he added that the ever-growing human population, expanding agriculture, demand for natural resources and linear development projects “pose serious threats” to safeguarding India’s biodiversity. “Maintaining the sanctity of PAs and adhering to the principles of green infrastructure are essential to protect India’s biodiversity. “