Botanic Gardens Conservation International
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Thousands of Trees at Risk of Extinction

11 March 2008
 Hinton's Oak, Quercus hintonii

 Hinton's Oak, Quercus hintonii, is slightly less threatened
than previously thought but is still under extreme
pressure from habitat clearance in its native Mexico

Image courtesy Arkive
© Juan Moreiras / FFI

Seventy-eight species of oak trees are globally threatened with extinction, including 17 species that are under threat in the United States, according to the latest BGCI publication, The Red List of Oaks.

Equally disturbing is the realisation that over half of oak species are so little known that it is currently impossible to say what level of threat they may be facing.

Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is co-author of the report, along with Antonia Eastwood of the Macaulay Institute in Scotland.

“Ecosystems and species are under threat, there’s no doubt about it,” says Oldfield. “Plants are often overlooked in biodiversity debates. Often, animals are discussed, but what about the plants on which they depend?” 

Insufficient Knowledge Leaves Gaps 

The report brings up to date the information available on threats to oaks, which join magnolias, conifers, ginkgo, and others on the “Red List.” This document, from the World Conservation Union (IUCN), lists species that are threatened with extinction in the wild – rating the seriousness of each species’ situation with categories such as critically endangered, endangered, and vulnerable.

The 2007 Red List documents 5,643 threatened tree species, 1,002 of which are listed as “critically endangered,” Oldfield reported. The figures are just “the tip of the iceberg,” she added. "We can only list a species as threatened when we have enough information to be sure of that fact. There are thousands of species that are not on the list simply because we haven't been able to count them."

“Trees are necessary for the ecological well-being of our planet.” 

A Multitude of Presures 

Quercus alnifolia of Cyprus is threatened by habitat degradation as are many of the threatened oaks.Reasons for the tree loss include deforestation, climate change, invasive alien species, over-exploitation of species, and pollution, Oldfield said. Additionally, oaks in the U.S. face sudden oak death disease.

BGCI is a lead partner in the Global Trees Campaign, a worldwide initiative to save the most threatened trees species and their habitats.

Trees provide the framework for nature in many habitats around the world, and the Global Trees Campaign focuses on trees as flagship species for conservation of trees and all of the plants and animals in the ecosystem that depend on them. 

So...Now What? 

BGCI's PlantSearch enables users to assess which oak species are being grown in arboreta and botanical gardens, and which are not. Gardens can thus identify "missing trees" by reading the Red List of Oaks and loooking for them in the database. The missing species can then be highlighted as priority species to be brought into conservation programs and cultivation. 

Priorities for action also recommended are:

  • Using the Red List of Oaks as a policy guide, aprticularly for forest conservation planning in regions of importance for oaks
  • Information collection, particularly in Mexico, India, Laos, Lebanon and Viet Nam
  • 12 Critically Endangered species require urgent attention - only three are known to be in cultivation in botnaic gardens
  • BGCI is undertaking a more in-depth survey on global cultivation of rare oaks
  • The effects of climate change on oaks should be studied

Everyone can support conservation work in botanic gardens, simply by visiting the garden and learning more about their work.

We can all also help by, for example, adopting greener lifestyles, consider the hidden impacts of our behaviour on vulnerable habitats, and volunteer in local conservation efforts.  

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