Brazil's endemic plant life on the verge of a mass extinction

Posted: 5 July 2009

Much of the stunning array rare plant life found only in Brazil is at a risk of being lost forever, a major new scientific book - published on 2 July - has concluded.

The book Rare Plants of Brazil (Plantas Raras do Brasil) has been compiled by more than 175 scientists from 55 research institutions. It has identified that the number of rare and endemic species in the country is more than four times the government’s estimate. The book, which was the result of a study run by Brazil’s Feira de Santana State University (UEFS) with Conservation International, identified and mapped 2,291 rare plant species in Brazil. The rare plants were identified according to two criteria - those occurring only in Brazil and those present in a total occurrence area equal to or smaller than 10,000 km2. “This means that the current number of plant species officially recognized by the Brazilian government as threatened (472) was grossly underestimated, to say the least”, says Alessandro Rapini, from UEFS, one of the book’s authors. The rare plant species were used to identify 752 proposed Key Biodiversity Areas, the most important sites for global biodiversity conservation. These proposed KBAs comprise 140 million hectares - 16.3% of the country’s area. Around half of the proposed KBAs have been heavily degraded by human activities. Only 7.8% have more than 50% of their area in protected areas or indigenous lands. This lack of protection, the increase of human activities in the country and the substantial effort by Brazilian agribusiness to soften environmental laws creates an explosive combination that could mean the rapid extinction of thousands of Brazilian plant species. José Maria Cardoso da Silva, Conservation International vice-president and one of the book’s authors added: “Without the effective protection of these species, Brazil faces a mass extinction. This should be a major diplomatic embarrassment for Brazil - one of the first signatories of the Convention on Biological Diversity – as the Brazilian government has pledged to make all efforts to prevent the loss of species in the country.”