A Third Of All The Cacti Is On The Brink Of Extinction – Humans And Not Global Warming Is The Threat

A third of all the cacti growth in the world is being increasingly threatened with extinction. A first-ever comprehensive, global assessment of the taxonomic group revealed the very disturbing fact.

A study conducted by scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the University of Exeter have revealed a very startling fact about the cacti plantation. Though quite tough, the cactuses are being increasingly wiped off, and about a third of the species could soon go extinct. The highly disturbing findings are from the Global Cactus Assessment – the first comprehensive, global study into the health of cactus species – did not blame the rising temperature of the earth for the rapid decline of the cacti. Instead, the cactus plantations across the world are being threatened by humans.

The scientists revealed that the cacti are being threatened by illegal trafficking of live plants and seeds, increased agriculture, and unsustainable harvesting practices, which have a detrimental and irreversible impact on the species. This has resulted in the steady decline in the area available for the growth of the plants, resulting in 31 percent of the world’s 1,480 cactus species being put at risk, reported MSN.

Incidentally, this figure puts the cacti ahead of illegal trade of animals, animal parts, and birds, said lead author of the study Barbara Goettsch.

“We were surprised to find that such a high proportion of cactus species are threatened… and by the diversity of threats. 31 percent of 1,478 types of cactus assessed were at risk of extinction – a higher rate than the 25 percent of mammals or 12 percent of birds that are rated as vulnerable to dying out because of human pressures.”

Essentially, the study blamed over-aggressive conversion of arid land for agricultural, commercial, and residential development by the steadily increasing human population, reported the Guardian. Interestingly, the study singled out shrimp farming as one of the largest growing industries that are threatening the cacti. However, the study added that the cacti species are being threatened because of illegal trade of plants as well.

“Unscrupulous collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private ornamental collections, smallholder livestock ranching and smallholder annual agriculture is the main driver of cacti species extinction.”

This study has clearly indicated that the illegal trade invaluable species affects plants just as much as it does animals like rhinos, elephants, lions, bears, and other territorial and marine animals.

Incidentally, cacti are now the fifth most endangered major group on the IUCN’s “red list” of threatened species, reported Canada Journal. Cycads, amphibians, corals, and conifers are more endangered than the cacti. This puts the thorny plants at a higher risk of extinction than mammals and birds, said the study. The study has urged that about 99 species of cacti should be immediately put on the critically endangered list, while 177 are classified as endangered and 140 are on the vulnerable list.

Cactuses may not come across as useful, however, an entire ecosystem depends on these thorny bushes for its survival. Owing to their ability to harbor water in extremely arid conditions, many animals flock to it for nourishment. Interestingly, their bright red flowers offer a lot of nectar to hummingbirds, bats, bees, and other winged creatures.

Worryingly, Europeans and Asians have always had a penchant for the cacti. They considered them as precious collectible objects, resulting in a thriving, illegal trade.

There have been a few treaties that have banned the trade of a select species of cacti. However, judging by the study, the problem can’t be solved simply by enacting laws.

[Image Credit | Abbas Momani, Rolf Hicker/ Getty Images, Bárbara Goettsch / IUCN]