High proportion of cactus species threatened with extinction

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A high proportion of plant species is predicted to be threatened with extinction in the near future. However, the threat status of only a small number has been evaluated compared with key animal groups, rendering the magnitude and nature of the risks plants face unclear. Here we report the results of a global species assessment for the largest plant taxon evaluated to date under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List Categories and Criteria, the iconic Cactaceae (cacti). We show that cacti are among the most threatened taxonomic groups assessed to date, with 31% of the 1,478 evaluated species threatened, demonstrating the high anthropogenic pressures on biodiversity in arid lands. The distribution of threatened species and the predominant threatening processes and drivers are different to those described for other taxa. The most significant threat processes comprise land conversion to agriculture and aquaculture, collection as biological resources, and residential and commercial development. The dominant drivers of extinction risk are the unscrupulous collection of live plants and seeds for horticultural trade and private ornamental collections, smallholder livestock ranching and smallholder annual agriculture. Our findings demonstrate that global species assessments are readily achievable for major groups of plants with relatively moderate resources, and highlight different conservation priorities and actions to those derived from species assessments of key animal groups.

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Author notes

    • Betty Fitz-Maurice
    •  & Eduardo Méndez



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  29. Hermanos Infante 225, San Luis Potosí C.P. 78250, SLP, Mexico

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  30. The Institute for Regional Conservation, Delray Beach, Florida, USA

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  31. Cuban Botanical Society, Hernan Behn No. 171, La Habana C.P. 10900, Cuba

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  33. Departamento de Botánica, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales y Oceanográficas, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 160C, Concepción, Chile

    • Pablo C. Guerrero
  34. Departamento de Ciencias Ecológicas, Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad, Universidad de Chile, Casilla 653, Santiago 780-0024, Chile

    • Pablo C. Guerrero
  35. Missouri Botanical Garden, P.O. Box 299, St. Louis, Missouri 23166-0299, USA

    • Barry Hammel
  36. San Juan College, Farmington, New Mexico 87402, USA

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  37. Laboratorio de Ecofisiología Tropical, Instituto de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Exterior, Ciudad Universitaria, México, D.F. C.P. 04510, Mexico

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  38. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland CH-1196, Switzerland

    • Michael Hoffmann
    •  & Simon N. Stuart
  39. United Nations Environment Programme, World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge CB3 0DL, UK

    • Michael Hoffmann
    •  & Simon N. Stuart
  40. El Colegio de La Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Carr. Panamericana y Periférico Sur s/n, Barrio de María Auxiliadora, San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas C.P. 29290, Mexico

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  41. IADIZA-CONICET, Casilla de Correo 507, Mendoza 5500, Argentina

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  46. Herbario HUEFS, Universidade Estadual de Feira de Santana, Feira de Santana, Bahia CEP 44036-900, Brazil

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  47. Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA

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    •  & Raul Puente-Martinez
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    •  & Teresa Valverde
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    • Eduardo Méndez
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    •  & Simon N. Stuart
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    • Jafet M. Nassar
  55. US Fish & Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa, Ave., Panama City, Florida 32405, USA

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  56. Department of Biology, Miami University, 501 East High Street, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA

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    • Emiliano Sánchez Martínez
  63. 33 Rossington Road, Sheffield S11 8SA, UK

    • Martin Smith
  64. Volcán Toliman 6100, Guadalajara, Jalisco C.P. 44250, Mexico

    • J. Manuel Sotomayor M. del C.
  65. Department of Biology and Biochemistry, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY, UK

    • Simon N. Stuart
  66. Al Ain Zoo, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

    • Simon N. Stuart
  67. Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas 79832, USA

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  68. Instituto Superior “Arturo U. Illia” (ISAUI), Olsacher 99, Villa Carlos Paz, Córdoba, Argentina

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  69. Sky Island Alliance, Inc, 300 E. University Blvd., Suite 270, Tucson, Arizona 85705, USA

    • Thomas R. Van Devender
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    • Helmut E. Walter
  72. Global Environment Facility, 1818 H St NW P4-400, Washington, DC 20433, USA

    • Sarah A. Wyatt
  73. HLAA, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK

    • Daniela Zappi
  74. Departamento de Biología, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Ap. Postal 55-535, México, D.F. 09340, Mexico

    • J. Alejandro Zavala-Hurtado


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B.G. and K.J.G. jointly created, developed and led the project. C.H.T., A.F., H.M.H., J.S., M.S., N.P.T., M.T., A.M.A, S.A., H.J.A.N., M.A.B., R.T.B., D.B., P.B., C.A.B., A.B., F.C., M.C.B., R.C.D., M.D.V.P., P.H.D., W.A.D.B., R.D., L.F.Y., R.S.F., B.F.M., W.A.F.M., G.G., C.G.H., L.R.G.T., M.P.G., P.C.G., B.H., K.D.H., J.G.H.O., M.H., M.I.I., R.K., J.L., J.L.L.D., C.R.L.S., M.L., M.C.M., L.C.M., J.G.M.A., C.M., J.M., E.M., R.A.M., J.M.N., V.N., L.J.O., P.O.B., A.B.P.F., D.J.P., J.M.P., R.P., J.R.G., P.S.P., E.S.M., M.S., J.M.S.M.C., S.N.S., J.L.T.M., T.T., M.T., M.T., T.V., T.R.V., M.E.V., H.E.W., S.A.W., D.Z., J.A.Z.H. contributed to the species assessment process. G.C.P., J.P.D., R.I. and C.P. conducted the analyses. B.G. and K.J.G. drafted the manuscript and this was commented on by all of the authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Bárbara Goettsch or Kevin J. Gaston.

Supplementary information