How many plant species are there, where are they, and at what rate are they going extinct?
How many flowering plant species are there? Where are they? How many are going extinct, and how fast are they doing so? Interesting in themselves, these are questions at the heart of modern conservation biology. Determining the answers will dictate where and how successfully conservation efforts will be allocated. Plants form a large taxonomic sample of biodiversity. They are important in themselves and directly determine the diversity of many other taxonomic groups. Inspired by conversations with Peter Raven, we set out to provide quantitative answers to these questions. We argue that there are 450,000 species, two thirds of which live in the tropics, a third of all species are at risk of extinction, and they are going extinct 1000 to 10,000 times the background rate. In obtaining these results, we point to the critical role of dedicated taxonomic effort and biodiversity monitoring. We will only get a good answer to the age-old question of "how many species are there?" when we understand the population biology and social behavior of taxonomists. That most missing species will be found in biodiversity hotspots reaffirms their place as the foci of extinction for decades to come. Important, but not yet addressed, are future studies of how long plant species take to become extinct in habitat fragments. These will deliver not only better estimates of extinction rates, but also the critical timeframe of how quickly one needs to act to prevent extinctions.
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