Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at RBG Kew, told CNN “it’s just a race against time” as we are losing plants faster than we can name them.
“A world without those 40% is not the world we know today,” Antonelli said.
While we don’t know what the effects of losing them would be, he added, it could be “catastrophic,” as we don’t understand which species play important roles in particular ecosystems.
“Everything is linked up,” Antonelli said.
Among those that we know are under threat are medicinal plants, with demand for naturally derived medicines threatening their survival. Some 5,411 medicinal plants were assessed in the study, and 723 are threatened.
Researchers say increased demand for herbal medicines is being driven a greater prevalence of certain chronic illnesses and the quest for new treatments.
While some medicinal plants are suffering overexploitation, Antonelli was keen to emphasize just how much plants and fungi have to offer.
The report recommends more funding for projects to find, name and conserve species that could provide solutions to some of humanity’s biggest problems, such as food insecurity and climate change, before they go extinct.
For example, humans rely on just 15 plants to serve 90% of our food needs, adding to the problem of malnutrition and leaving us vulnerable to climate change, but scientists at Kew have identified 7,039 plant species that could be used as food.