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High proportion of cactus species threatened with extinction

Nature Plants volume 1, Article number: 15142 (2015) | Download Citation


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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In memory of Betty Fitz-Maurice and Eduardo Méndez. We are grateful to the University of Sheffield and the University of Exeter for housing the Global Cactus Assessment (GCA); for the institutional support of IUCN, in particular staff of the Global Species Programme, the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the IUCN SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group and the office of the Chair of IUCN SSC which made available valuable resources, via the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, at a critical juncture in the project; to the donors and hosts who made the eight GCA workshops possible as well as the individuals (in parentheses) who helped with the organization and logistics—Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas, Comisión Nacional para Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (S. Cariaga and A. López) and Instituto Nacional de Ecología, Conservation International, the North of England Zoological Society, Jardín Botánico Regional de Cadereyta (E. Sánchez and M. Magdalena Hernández Martínez), Desert Botanical Garden (C. Butterworth), the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, Jardin Exotique de Monaco (J.-M. Solichon), the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, Conservation International-Brazil, Instituto Chico Mendes, Instituto Argentino de Investigaciones de Zonas Áridas (R. Kiesling and M. Superina), The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Instituto de Ecología y Biodiversidad project P05-002 ICM, Universidad de Chile (P. Guerrero), Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (J. Maschinski), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Laboratorio de Cactología at the Insituto de Biología UNAM (H. Hernández and C. Gómez-Hinostrosa) and Keidanren Nature Conservation Fund; and to G. Charles, P. Hoxey, J. A. Hawkins, C. Yesson and Sukkulenten-Sammlung Zürich who provided point locality data. B.G. was partially funded by Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología grant 0000000000118202. We are indebted to the hard work put in by volunteers P. Durán, E. Hounslow, R. Lee, C. Malone, C. F. Rose, K. Watt and S. Willhoit; to L. Bacigalupe and J. Bennie for assistance with analyses; and to M.L. Ávila-Jiménez, J. Bennie, M.G. Gaston, S. Gaston and five anonymous reviewers for comments on the manuscript.

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    • Betty Fitz-Maurice
    •  & Eduardo Méndez



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  3. Environment and Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter, Penryn, Cornwall TR10 9FE, UK

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  20. Facultad de Biología, Universidad Veracruzana, Zona Universitaria, Xalapa, Veracruz C.P. 91000, Mexico

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  21. Pulsar Group, LLC, Environmental Consulting and Services, 565 Bluff Canyon Circle, El Paso, TX 79912, 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

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    •  & 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

    • Mario Ishiki Ishihara
  41. IADIZA-CONICET, Casilla de Correo 507, Mendoza 5500, Argentina

    • Roberto Kiesling
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    • João Larocca
  43. Herbarium HCIB, Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, SC, Apdo. postal 128, La Paz, Baja California Sur C.P. 23000, Mexico

    • José Luis León-de la Luz
  44. Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana “Benjamín Carrión”, Núcleo de Loja/Sección de Ciencias Naturales y Ecología, Colón 13 - 12 y Bernardo Valdivieso, Loja, Ecuador

    • Christian R. Loaiza S.
  45. International Organization for Succulent Plant Study, 83, Seaton Road, Hessle, Hull, UK

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

    • Marlon C. Machado
  47. Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611, USA

    • Lucas C. Majure
  48. Desert Botanical Garden, 1201 N Galvin Parkway, Phoenix, AZ 85281, USA

    • Lucas C. Majure
    • , Donald J. Pinkava
    •  & Raul Puente-Martinez
  49. Instituto de Ecología Aplicada, Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas, Calle División del Golfo No 356, Col. Libertad, Cd. Victoria, Tamaulipas C.P 87019, México

    • José Guadalupe Martínez Ávalos
  50. Departamento de Ecología y Recursos Naturales, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Deleg. Coyoacán, México, D.F. C.P. 04510, Mexico

    • Carlos Martorell
    •  & Teresa Valverde
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    • Joyce Maschinski
  52. Botánica y Fitosociología-IADIZA-CCT-CONICET-MENDOZA, Avda. Dr. Adrián Ruiz Leal, S/N°, Parque General San Martín, C.P. 5500, Mendoza, Mendoza, Argentina

    • Eduardo Méndez
  53. Conservation International, 2011 Crystal Drive, Arlington, Virginia 22202, USA

    • Russell A. Mittermeier
    •  & Simon N. Stuart
  54. Centro de Ecología, Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas, Carretera Panamericana km 11, Apdo. 20632, Altos de Pipe, Miranda, Venezuela

    • Jafet M. Nassar
  55. US Fish & Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa, Ave., Panama City, Florida 32405, USA

    • Vivian Negrón-Ortiz
  56. Department of Biology, Miami University, 501 East High Street, Oxford, Ohio 45056, USA

    • Vivian Negrón-Ortiz
  57. Facultad de Ciencias Agrarias, UNR, C.C. N° 14, S2125ZAA, Zavalla, Argentina

    • Luis J. Oakley
  58. LABIBO, Facultad de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Salta-CONICET, Av. Bolivia 5150, Salta 4400, Argentina

    • Pablo Ortega-Baes
  59. Asociación Etnobotánica Paraguaya, Dr. Hassler 6378 entre R.I.4 Curupayty y R.I. 2 Ytororó, Asunción, Paraguay

    • Ana Beatriz Pin Ferreira
  60. Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, 1500 N. College Ave., Claremont, California 91711, USA

    • J. Mark Porter
  61. Museo de Historia Natural, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru

    • José Roque Gamarra
  62. Jardín Botánico Regional de Cadereyta “Ing. Manuel González de Cosío”, Consejo de Ciencia y Tecnología del Estado de Querétaro, Camino a la antigua Hacienda de Tovares sin número, Cadereyta de Montes, Querétaro C.P. 76500, Mexico

    • 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

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

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

    • Thomas R. Van Devender
  70. Herbario BIGU, Escuela de Biología, Facultad CC. QQ. y Farmacia, Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala, Guatemala

    • Mario Esteban Véliz-Pérez
  71. The EXSIS project: cactaceae ex-situ & in-situ conservation, Casilla 175, Buin, Chile

    • 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.

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