Should we say goodbye to cacti?
Itís hard not to think of a cactus as a resilient plant. Living in hot, drought-stricken climates, if it can survive there, surely it can make it through anything. Sadly, this assumption is not reality for the cactus. As an international team of researchers discovered, nearly one-third of all cactus species face a looming threat of extinction.
The study, recently published in the scientific journal Nature Plants, examined populations of nearly 1,500 cactus species Ė 31 percent of which were deemed at risk of extinction. Collectively, the researchers found that ďcacti are among the most threatened taxonomic groups assessed to date.Ē Here are three big reasons why cacti are in trouble:
1. Loss of Habitat
As the global human population grows, so does the demand for land ó land for people to live on, land for growing crops and land for raising livestock. Though most environmentalists are well aware of how this phenomenon destroys Amazonian rainforests, fewer probably realize itís also responsible for clearing arid climates as well. Consequentially, landowners chop down rare cactus species without much thought to how few remain throughout the world.
2. Illegal Sale
Thanks to their exotic beauty, cacti are popular purchases in regions where they donít naturally grow, particularly Europe. Though trade of cacti is largely illegal, because of the hefty prices cacti can fetch (up to $1,000 for a single cactus,) people are willing to take the risk and snatch grown cacti from their natural habitats anyway.
In these new non-native environments, buyers often do not understand the conditions necessary to keep them alive, let alone how to help them reproduce, meaning they die out. Additionally, by having fewer cacti in natural habitats, there are far fewer seeds around for new cacti to grow.
3. Climate Change
Like most life forms on the planet, cacti are vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. So far, cacti can withstand the increased temperatures, but they ultimately lose when other desert creatures arenít as adaptable. For example, some cactus species rely on butterflies for pollination, and with monarch butterflies dying off from climate change, those cacti are under threat.
Furthermore, although we think of cacti as living in isolated deserts, some species live near the coast. With the rising sea levels accompanying climate change, habitats for these cacti may be underwater in another century or so.
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Cactus image via Shutterstock.