Thursday, November 11, 2010

Is the extinction of wild plants a key to conservation?

conifers with ornamental cones

“A fifth of all wild plant species face extinction”(29 September 2010). Just by reading this article’s title, not many would be keen on taking time to read what the author is trying to point out. Most people would probably flip the page over having the notion that we have stuffed the environment again. News such as “100 people killed in a tragic road accident” or “virus wiping out corn in Ontario” are more emotional and capturing stories that people would not hesitate reading through. How many times have we heard or seen stories related to the environment? Almost every week I suppose, but not everyone is interested in all the arguments and warnings put across by different authors on issues related to the environment. Therefore the author’s claim that humans and animals will be negatively affected by a decrease in wild plant species is inaccurate because, the article does not include enough evidence and also since we lack full knowledge of these wild plants.

I acknowledge the fact that Andy Coghlan; the author of this article refers to scientific defensible data by Eimear Nic Lughadha of Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London, however the author expects the reader to take Lughadha’s word for it without providing further evidence that this is in fact true. Based on the article, Coghlan should have provided necessary information about the people who carried out the study. This includes their education background, profession and/or qualifications. Lughadha and his team investigate 4000 out of the 380,000 plant species and the 4000 species that were studied, resulted in “satisfactory data”. The author quotes in his article that, "We wanted to take a sample of plants that we could defend as being representative of plant diversity globally," according to Lughadha. This is not justifiable because taking 4000 species is such a small sample size and cannot be a representative of the entire plant population.

Coghlan points out that conifers and cycads are at higher risk of extinction based on a preliminary conclusion (Coghlan, A.). This is a weak argument because the correlation between these plant species and anthropocentrist as well as sentiest individuals is not mentioned. How then is the reader going to look into ways of preventing these species from going extinct? To divert their money from issues they consider of greater importance such as education and social security into saving this endangered species? If Coghlan was focusing on plant species that have a direct effect on humans and consumed by humans, then by all means, most people will take necessary action to read the article and work towards preventing the plants from going extinct.
In his article, Coghlan includes the quotes, "At the moment we're throwing away species that we don't fully understand." (Lughadha, E. N.). The fact that we don’t fully understand these plants doesn’t necessarily mean that throwing them away will negatively impact the ecosystem. One must not forget that there is a possibility that if they go extinct there can be potential benefits for the ecosystem. Based on the ignorance argument, species are crucial for eco system functioning but the view that everything is critical is almost certainly not true. Therefore, referring to Lughadha’s quote “if all the plants vanish so will all animals and birds,” assumes that some plants may cause harm on human and animal health. As a result, this makes it difficult to draw the line on which species count morally and which ones don’t.

The prevention of plants from extinction is almost implausible because plants in the wild most of the time go unnoticed, as they have no primary link to humans and animals. The author does not state why these plants are facing extinction. This is a lack of proper evidence for the reader to help prevent these species from going extinct. Coghlan fails to provide the reader with the environment from which these plants come from, which leaves one wondering what parts of the world are the species most affected.

Coghlan puts up strong arguments based on what Lughadha said but his way of targeting readers to actually look into considering plants to be saved from extinction needs a more capturing approach and also mention briefly how this plants may be correlated to humans and animals. Another strong argument he included in his article is the fact that animals and birds will have nothing to depend on for a living if all plants vanish. This is reflected by the fact that plants form the base of food chains and the birds and animals are heterotrophic organisms. Reflecting on the slippery slope argument, the extinction of a species diminishes the biosphere and with the 36 per cent of the gymnosperms at risk of being lost, it is worth conserving plants in general.

Coghlan, A. (2010) A fifth of all wild plant species face extinction. The New Scientist, issue 2780.


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