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U.S. biodiversity crisis: more than a third of species are threatened

A new analysis led by NatureServe has revealed that more than one-third of plants and animals are at risk of vanishing in the United States. The unprecedented report, Biodiversity in Focus: United States Edition, warns that 34 percent of plants and 40 percent of animals are threatened with extinction

The rare Venus flytrap, 200 species of trees, and nearly half of all cacti species are all at risk of disappearing, according to the report. The greatest numbers of threatened species were found in California, Texas and the southeastern United States. 

Furthermore, the researchers determined that 41 percent of ecosystems are at risk of collapse, which means that they could rapidly lose their structure and function.

“For fifty years, the NatureServe Network has been collecting the information necessary to understand biodiversity imperilment in the United States. This new analysis of that data, a first in 20 years, makes crystal clear the urgency of that work,” said Regan Smyth of NatureServe. 

“Two-fifths of our ecosystems are in trouble. Freshwater invertebrates and many pollinators, the foundation of a healthy, functional planet, are in precipitous decline. Understanding and addressing these risks is critical if we are to forestall devastating consequences for the biodiversity that humanity needs to survive.” 

The experts set out to gain a better understanding of how many species and ecosystems are currently at risk in the United States, and whether or not they are protected. The team also wanted to identify the major threats to biodiversity, as well as how to address these threats. 

The analysis showed that habitat degradation, invasive species, dams, and climate change are among the primary threats to biodiversity in the United States. 

The analysis also revealed that species face different types of threats in different parts of the country. Overall, 37 percent of the bee species examined in the study are at risk, and this threat is greater for bees in the Western U.S.

Among the country’s ecosystems that are facing collapse, the experts found that grasslands and wetlands are particularly in need of conservation efforts. The report states that over half of 78 grassland types at risk of a range-wide collapse.

“We are currently experiencing and causing the Sixth Extinction – the mass extinction of species across the planet. NatureServe’s data highlight where the threats are right here at home,” said Dr. Sean T. O’Brien, president and CEO of NatureServe. “The plants, animals, and ecosystems found in our state, tribal, and federal lands are key components of our cultural and natural heritage. We should be proud of the biodiversity in our backyard and should prioritize protecting what is here, now.”  

U.S. Representative Don Beyer said NatureServe’s work would be critical to helping agencies identify what areas to prioritize and where to establish migration routes.

“The data reported by NatureServe is grim, a harrowing sign of the very real problems our wildlife and ecosystems are facing,” Beyer told Reuters. “I am thankful for their efforts, which will give a boost to efforts to protect biodiversity.”

By Chrissy Sexton, Editor

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