New research suggests that even by conservative efforts, the number of plants that have gone extinct in the last three centuries is 500 times higher than before the industrial revolution, and the rate of extinction is skyrocketing. According to the survey, at least 571 plants have become extinct since 1750, which should be a “frightening” concern to anyone who eats or breathes.

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“Plants underpin all life on Earth. They provide the oxygen we breathe and the food we eat, as well as making up the backbone of the world’s ecosystems,” said study author Eimear Nic Lughadha from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The scientists also believe that their confirmed list of 571 plants is only the tip of the iceberg. In most cases, it can take years to declare a species officially extinct because of the landscapes that have to be scoured for any last survivors.

“How are you going to check the entirety of the Amazon for your lost plant?” Maria Vorontsova, also from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, told The Guardian.

Furthermore, there are thousands of species that are functionally extinct, meaning there are so few remaining plants that the chances of reproduction and survival are nearly — if not entirely — impossible. Despite their conservative tally, the researchers’ estimate is still four times higher than what is officially recorded on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

“It is way more than we knew and way more than should have gone extinct,” said Vorontsova. “It is frightening not just because of the 571 number, but because I think that is a gross underestimate.”

According to the United Nations, another 1 million species are currently at risk of extinction. Many scientists believe that extinction and biodiversity should be in the news and keeping us up at night just as much as climate change, but that it is often a less acknowledged, and less funded, crisis.

Financing and support for plants is especially challenging within the conservation field, because they just aren’t as cute as their endangered animal counterparts.

Scientists often collect and save DNA samples from extinct plants in labs at places such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in hopes that innovative discoveries could help save other plants or one day bring back old ones.

Via The Guardian

Image via Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew