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Saving Land to Save Species

Plant species are vanishing at an alarming rate.

Around the world, 9,829 different kinds of plants are endangered, a number that’s been growing since at least 1998, when the International Union for the Conservation of Nature started publishing its red list of threatened plant species.

Reversing that trend means protecting more spaces where many of these plants live. New biodiversity research from NC State takes an important step by mapping conservation priority areas worldwide that hold the key to protecting vulnerable species.

Dr. Clinton Jenkins, a research scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences, used computer algorithms to find the greatest numbers of plant species that could be saved by protecting the least amount of land.  The work, conducted with colleagues at Duke University and Microsoft Research, showed that more than 60 percent of Earth’s plant species could be saved from extinction if just 17 percent of Earth’s landmass was protected in key areas.  These areas, which include parts of Central America, Madagascar, the Andes and Southeast Asia, contain the greatest amounts of plant biodiversity.

The results of the work, published this summer in Science and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also pinpoint the highest global concentrations of mammals, amphibians and birds on a scale that’s 100 times finer than previous assessments.

Now, it’s time for action, Jenkins said. As vice president of the conservation nonprofit Saving Species, Jenkins helps non-government organizations around the world buy and protect native lands.

“I don’t think it’s right for us to deny the entire future of humanity the option of enjoying a diverse and healthy world,” he said.