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World’s oldest and largest species in decline

2 July 2013

The latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species released on July 2nd 2013 includes a global reassessment of conifers. According to the results, 34% of the world’s conifers are now threatened with extinction – an increase by 4% since the last complete assessment in 1998.

Conifers are the oldest and largest species on the planet. The Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva) for example, can live to an age of nearly 5,000 years and the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) grows to a height of 110 meters. Apart from wetlands, coniferous forests sequester more carbon than any other biome – three times the amount sequestered by temperate and tropical forests. Their economic value is immense: softwoods are used for timber and paper production and the anti-cancer agent Taxol is derived from the bark of many of the Yew species.

The conservation status of 33 conifer species has declined, including California’s Monterey Pine (Pinus radiata) - the world’s most widely planted pine valued for its rapid growth and pulp qualities. The tree has moved from Least Concern – a category used for species at relatively low extinction risk - to Endangered. The main threats facing the species include feral goats and attacks by an invasive pathogen.

Another conifer species previously classified as Least Concern, the Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica) – native to the Atlas Mountains of Algeria and Morocco. It is now classified as Endangered due to over-exploitation. Its reduced population is threatened by various pests.
On the other hand, conservation action has led to improved status for the Lawson’s Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana). Once a heavily-traded species, the tree is now listed as Near Threatened thanks to improved management practices in California and Oregon, including planting disease resistant stock. If conservation actions continue, this conifer may be listed as Least Concern within 10 years.

Conservation works and the results for the Lawson’s Cypress are reassuring,” says Aljos Farjon, Chair of the IUCN SSC Conifer Specialist Group. “However, this is clearly not enough. More research into the status and distribution of many species is urgently needed. We suspect that there are many new species waiting to be described but it is likely that they will never be found due to the rate of deforestation and habitat conversion for oil palm plantations.” 
Pinus massoniana

The latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has resulted in 4,807 additional species assessments being added to The IUCN Red List. The total number of assessed species is now 70,294, of which 20,934 are threatened with extinction.

Thanks to the IUCN Red List, we now have more information on the state of the world’s biodiversity than ever before,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “But the overall picture is alarming. We must use this knowledge to its fullest – making our conservation efforts well targeted and efficient - if we are serious about stopping the extinction crisis that continues to threaten all life on Earth.” 

Larix potanini

Find out more about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species here

Last call to participate in the BGCI ex situ global survey of conifer collections!

BGCI is currently running a global survey of ex situ conifer collections building on information held within our PlantSearch database. The survey will enable us to identify which Critically Endangered (CR) and Endangered (EN) conifers are currently held in ex situ collections, which are involved in reintroduction and restoration programmes and which are in need of urgent conservation action.

The results of the survey will inform and guide future conservation efforts.  BGCI will develop recommendations for the long term integrated conservation of the most threatened conifers.

To ensure the conservation work of your institution is represented in this important survey please send your collection information to us by 15th July 2013.

•    Upload your collection information to the BGCI PlantSearch database. Guidance on how to do this can be found on our website here
•    Send a list of the threatened species held in your collection to including the following information for each species:
 - Is this conifer from a known wild source of from horticultural/unknown origin?
 - How many individuals do you maintain in the collection?
 - Is this conifer collection part of a restoration or reintroduction programme?

BGCI will publish a report later this year highlighting which threatened species are currently lacking from ex situ collections and making recommendations for the conservation of threatened conifer species in response to the latest conservation assessments.

The location of plant holdings will not be made public. More information about the survey can be found here: BGCI global ex situ survey of conifer collections.

If you have any questions please contact

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