Extinction risk and threats to plants and fungi

Eimear Nic Lughadha, Steven P. Bachman, Tarciso C.C. Leão, Félix Forest, John M. Halley, Justin Moat, Carmen Acedo, Karen L. Bacon, Ryan F.A. Brewer, Gildas Gâteblé, Susana C. Gonçalves, Rafaël Govaerts, Peter M. Hollingsworth, Irmgard Krisai-Greilhuber, Elton J. de Lirio, Paloma G.P. Moore, Raquel Negrão, Jean Michel Onana, Landy R. Rajaovelona, Henintsoa RazanajatovoPeter B. Reich, Sophie L. Richards, Malin C. Rivers, Amanda Cooper, João Iganci, Gwilym P. Lewis, Eric C. Smidt, Alexandre Antonelli, Gregory M. Mueller, Barnaby E. Walker

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

231 Scopus citations


There is increasing awareness that plants and fungi, as natural solutions, can play an important role in tackling ongoing global environmental challenges. We illustrate how understanding current and projected threats to plants and fungi is necessary to manage and mitigate risks, while building awareness of gaps and bias in current assessment coverage is essential to adequately prioritize conservation efforts. We highlight the state of the art in conservation science and point to current methods of assessment and future studies needed to mitigate species extinction. Summary: Plant and fungal biodiversity underpin life on earth and merit careful stewardship in an increasingly uncertain environment. However, gaps and biases in documented extinction risks to plant and fungal species impede effective management. Formal extinction risk assessments help avoid extinctions, through engagement, financial, or legal mechanisms, but most plant and fungal species lack assessments. Available global assessments cover c. 30% of plant species (ThreatSearch). Red List coverage overrepresents woody perennials and useful plants, but underrepresents single-country endemics. Fungal assessments overrepresent well-known species and are too few to infer global status or trends. Proportions of assessed vascular plant species considered threatened vary between global assessment datasets: 37% (ThreatSearch), and 44% (International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species). Our predictions, correcting for several quantifiable biases, suggest that 39% of all vascular plant species are threatened with extinction. However, other biases remain unquantified, and may affect our estimate. Preliminary trend data show plants moving toward extinction. Quantitative estimates based on plant extinction risk assessments may understate likely biodiversity loss: they do not fully capture the impacts of climate change, slow-acting threats, or clustering of extinction risk, which could amplify loss of evolutionary potential. The importance of extinction risk estimation to support existing and emerging conservation initiatives is likely to grow as threats to biodiversity intensify. This necessitates urgent and strategic expansion of efforts toward comprehensive and ongoing assessment of plant and fungal extinction risk.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-408
Number of pages20
JournalPlants People Planet
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors, Plants, People, Planet © New Phytologist Foundation


  • Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) Target 2
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species
  • automated conservation assessments
  • biodiversity loss
  • extinction debt
  • extinction risk
  • phylogenetic diversity (PD)


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