Cacti can survive harsh climates, thirsty predators, and a lack of rainfall—but not our actions. Despite the plant’s resilience, approximately 31 percent of the world's 1480 cactus species are now at risk of going extinct thanks to human activities.
A study, published in Nature Plants journal and authored by scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, found illegal collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private collections is a driving factor behind cacti species’ extinction. According to the study, 86 percent of the endangered cacti used in horticulture were harvested from wild areas. Other practices that harm the plants include residential and commercial development, agriculture, and mining.
"The results of this assessment come as a shock to us," lead author Barbara Goettsch, co-chairwoman of the IUCN's Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group, told the BBC. "We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline."
While conservationists tend to focus on animals more than plants, only 25 percent of mammals and 13 percent of bird species are threatened, the study pointed out. Meanwhile, cacti serve as an important source of food and water for many animals, including coyotes, deer, lizards, tortoises, bats, and hummingbirds. As cacti disappear, arid eco-systems will be impacted.
The ICUN currently ranks cacti as the fifth most threatened species of endangered flora and fauna, right beneath cycads, amphibians, corals, and conifers. Because of this, they’re calling for international measures to curb illegal cactus harvesting and trading, as well as for the plants to be protected from practices like construction, quarrying, and aquaculture.
[h/t The Guardian]