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Native Plant Extinction

17/12/2007

The National Botanic Gardens of Ireland have predicted that at the current rate of climate change 171 of Ireland's plants may face extinction within the next 42

years (2050). Currently, 850 plants have been identified as native. A native plant is one that has been growing here since the last Ice Age some 13,000 years ago. This implies that they have been evolving to suite our existing climate, habitats and soil types. Plants that have occupied the same geographical area for this length of time have fine-tuned their physiological and reproductive processes to ensure the maximum chance of survival. More importantly for our biodiversity, is the intricate web of links they have formed with a range of other organisms from bacteria and viruses through to mammals.
How climate change will target these plants for extinction is however, not clear, but it is accepted that it will be habitat based. Climate change will impose a new temperature range and different rainfall patterns than we (they) are used to. These variations will inevitable change Ireland's habitats. Looking at a simple map of Ireland will reveal the diversity of streams, rivers, lakes, fens marshes and bogs that make up the island. The stability of these wetland habitats depends on both the current levels of rainfall and its distribution throughout the year. A change in amount or distribution of rain will cause changes to the habitats. This could see the end for plants such as Bog Asphodel, the Sundew (Drosera),Bog Cotton or even the Fly Orchid (see photo above).
Many existing species are already threatened from habitat destruction (the Irish Government has failed to carry out many of its obligations under the Habitats Directive) will probably be the first to go as climate change kicks in on habitat structure.
Further threats have been identified by the influx of invasive or exotic species. One of the most drastic events arising from climate change could be a rise in sea level. Once this begins, habitat destruction will be uncontrollable and it is likely it will carry with it a mass influx of exotic species. A worst case scenario would mean an unrecognisable wildlife for Ireland in 2050; a best case scenario would be serious government involvement to stop climate change.
To maintain our existing wildlife and habitats the following needs to be acted on immediately: a reduction in carbon emissions, serious implementation of the Habitats Directive and the cultivation of existing species for future generations.

Text and images ({c}) Paul Whelan, 2007.