Almost 31% of cacti species are experiencing a high risk of extinction.
Cactus, a plant native to barren parts of America, is facing a high risk of extinction, higher than even birds and mammals.
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According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimations, cacti are one the most threatened species among all plants, animals and microorganisms of the world. Currently, 31% of 1,478 evaluated cacti species are found th be on the verge of extinction.
The plant is experiencing various kinds of threats. Agriculture is the most widespread of them which is affecting cacti species in large parts of northern Mexico, Mesoamerica and the southern parts of South America.
Cacti in coastal areas of Mexico and the Caribbean, are mainly disturbed by residential and commercial development. Other dominant factors include illegal trafficking of the plant, trading of seeds for horticulture and for private ornamental collections as well as the destruction and degradation of its habitat.
“The results of this assessment come as a shock to us,” says Barbara Goettsch, lead author of the study and Co-Chairperson of IUCN’s Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group. “We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline. Their loss could have far-reaching consequences for the diversity and ecology of arid lands and for local communities dependent on wild-harvested fruit and stems.”
According to IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria, cacti are the fifth most threatened of any major taxonomic group assessed to date, with 31% of threatened species. The other groups with the higher percentage are cycads (63% threatened species), amphibians (41%), corals (33%) and conifers (34%) while 25% mammal species and 13% of bird species are listed threatened. Among the cacti, 99 (6.7%) species are classified as critically Endangered, 177 (12%) as Endangered and 140 (9.4%) as Vulnerable.
“These findings are disturbing,” said Inger Andersen, Director General of IUCN. “They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade – including trade in plants – is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention. We must urgently step up international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and strengthen the implementation of the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, if we want to prevent the further decline of these species.”
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Cacti is a key part of arid floras of the Western Hemisphere. Ever since, cacti were discovered by Europeans, they have been considered a precious collectable object. People collect them for display in exhibitions as well as food for human consumption and for medicine. Like any other plant, cactus is important for the rest of the biodiversity and for the function of ecosystem.