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Prelims Capsule


India’s shrinking greenery – 18% tree species extinct or critically-endangered

India’s shrinking greenery – 18% tree species extinct or critically-endangered


  • GS 3 || Environment || Climate Change || Tackling Climate Change


  • The world is facing a biodiversity crisis and around a million animal and plant species are estimated to be threatened with extinction as per evaluations by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in 2019. Trees are highly visible in most landscapes and are excellent biodiversity indicators. Concern about ecosystem collapse is increasing, owing to the growing recognition that the process can be very abrupt, as seen in the bleaching and death of large parts of the Great Barrier Reef in 2016-17.

Why in the news?

  • Recently, Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) launched the State of the World’s Trees Report.


  • According to the report, nearly a third of the world’s tree species are on the verge of extinction, with hundreds.
    • The Botanic Garden Conservation International (BGCI) is a membership organization that represents botanic gardens in over 100 countries worldwide. It is an independent UK charity that was founded in 1987 to connect the world’s botanic gardens in a global network for plant conservation.

Key findings of the report

Species Under Threat

  • 17,500 tree species which is some 30% of the total – area at risk of extinction, while 440 species have fewer than 50 individuals left in the wild.11% of the flora or plant life of every country was made up of threatened species.Overall the number of threatened tree species is double the number of threatened mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles combined.

Species that are nearing extinction

  • Agarwood trees in India produce a resin used in perfumes, incense, and medicines, and the huge demand for this has led to populations of eight Aquilaria and 15 Gonystylus species declining to a point at which they are now categorized as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
  • Several Eucalyptus species in Australia are threatened;Diospyrosegrettarum, endemic to Mauritius is critically endangered, threatened by an invasive exotic plant species; Madagascan species of Diospyros and Dalbergia have been severely exploited to supply the Chinese market as have Dalbergia species from Central America, the report has flagged.

Most At-Risk Trees

  • Among the most at-risk trees are species including magnolias and dipterocarps – which are commonly found in Southeast Asian rainforests. Oak trees, maple trees, and ebonies also face threats.

Global landscape

  • The largest number of tree species are in the Neotropics (Central and South America, 23,631 tree species), followed by Indo-Malaya (tropical Asia, 13,s) and the Afrotropics (Africa south of the Sahara, including Madagascar, 9,237 species). S Academy
  • Countries at Highest Risk-Thousands of tree varieties are on the verge of extinction in the world’s top six countries for tree-species diversity.
    • The country with the highest tree diversity is Brazil with 8,847 tree species, followed by Colombia. New Zealand, Madagascar, and New Caledonia (all islands) have the greatest proportion of endemic tree species with over 90% of species being found nowhere else.
    • Larger megadiverse countries (Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, etc) have a large number of tree species and also a large number of threatened species. India’s proportion of threatened tree species is also higher than the global average of 11%.
  • Island Trees: While megadiverse countries have the most varieties at risk of extinction, island tree species are more proportionally threatened.This is especially concerning because many islands have tree species found nowhere else.

The fallout in India

  • Indian experts point to measures taken to protect biodiversity but are concerned too. India has a very well-established network of Protected Areas (PAS) that encompass nearly 5% of its landmass.
    • These PAS that is backed by strong legislations are the hot spots of biodiversity in the country. Besides, community-owned lands in large parts of Nortradt India are also major sources of biodiversity. Legislations such as Forest Conservation Act, Wildlife Protection Act, and Biodiversity Act are majorly responsible for protecting India’s rich biodiversity. But ever-increasing human population, expansion of agriculture, demand for natural resources, and linear development projects “pose serious threats” to safeguard India’s biodiversity.
  • 18% of India’s tree species face extinction according to the report
    • India has 2,603 tree species, of which 650 are endemic or native to certain parts of the country, and 469 of them are threatened.
    • 30% of tree species around the world are threatened with extinction. 
    • It also found that at least 142 tree species are already extinct in the wild.
  • In the Indo-Malaya region, which covers India, 41 tree species are extinct, the highest globally compared to other regions. Around 3,819 species are threatened and 1,068 species are near threatened, among 13,739 species in the region.

Major Threats

  • The main threats to tree species are forest clearance for various projects; other forms of habitat loss including exploitation for timber, medicine,etc; and the spread of invasive pests and diseases.
  • Crop production, timber logging, and livestock farming are the top three threats to tree species, while climate change and extreme weather are emerging threats.
  • At least 180 tree species are directly threatened by rising sea levels and severe weather, particularly island species such as Caribbean magnolias.

Why there is a Need for Saving Trees?

  • Support System-Trees help support the natural ecosystem and are considered vital for combating global warming and climate change.The extinction of a single tree species could cause a domino effect, catalyzing the loss of many other species.
  • Act as Buffer-They store 50% of the world’s terrestrial carbon and provide a buffer from extreme weather, such as hurricanes and tsunamis.
  • Habitat & Food-Many threatened tree species provide the habitat and food for millions of other species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and microorganisms.


  • New and groundbreaking approaches such as the Japanese “Miyawaki” afforestation system can be used to grow urban forests and increase the green cover in these areas.
    • Miyawaki is a Japanese botanist Akira Miyawaki pioneering technique that helps to create thick, natural forests in a short time.
  • Increased understanding of and management of urban forestry will lead to rising urban forest cover with increasing urbanization

Way forward

  • In the report, BGCI recommends five key actions for policymakers and experts to protect and bring back threatened species
    • Extend protected area coverage for threatened tree species that are currently not well represented in protected areas.
    • Ensure that all globally threatened tree species, where possible, are conserved in botanic garden and seed bank collections.
    • Increase availability of Government and corporate funding for threatened tree species.
    • Expand tree planting schemes, and ensure the targeted planting of threatened and native species.
    • Increase global collaboration to tackle tree extinction, by participating in international efforts such as the Global Conservation Consortia

Mains model Question

  • What role does biodiversity play in the natural system of planet Earth? Explain with facts.