A new study presents an alarming stat about what researchers call a "keystone" family of trees—more than half of the world's species of palm trees face extinction. The study in Nature Ecology and Evolution finds that more than 1,000 of the 1,900 different species are at risk, per Inhabitat. As the BBC notes, the implications are profound. Millions of people around the world rely on them for staple crops such as coconuts, dates, and palm oil, and the trees are used in the manufacture of everything from medicine to furniture.
"Overall, we show that hundreds of species of this keystone family face extinction, some of them probably irreplaceable, at least locally," write the scientists in the study. "This highlights the need for urgent actions to avoid major repercussions on palm-associated ecosystem processes and human livelihoods in the coming decades." The study specified Madagascar, New Guinea, the Philippines, Hawaii, Borneo, Jamaica, Vietnam, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Sulawesi as regions of particular concern.
The study made use of artificial intelligence to assess the state of the trees, and the data was used to update what's known as the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. Researchers hope the results can lead to specific conservation efforts from locals in the affected regions. "The biodiversity crisis dictates that we take urgent action to stem biodiversity loss," said Steven Bachman of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in London, per Inhabitat. "The addition of plants to the Red List is one of the vital steps conservationists can take to raise awareness of species at risk." (More palm tree stories.)