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Global dataset shows geography and life form predict modern plant extinction and rediscovery


Most people can name a mammal or bird that has become extinct in recent centuries, but few can name a recently extinct plant. We present a comprehensive, global analysis of modern extinction in plants. Almost 600 species have become extinct, at a higher rate than background extinction, but almost as many have been erroneously declared extinct and then been rediscovered. Reports of extinction on islands, in the tropics and of shrubs, trees or species with narrow ranges are least likely to be refuted by rediscovery. Plant extinctions endanger other organisms, ecosystems and human well-being, and must be understood for effective conservation planning.

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Data availability

All new data on plant extinction and rediscovery analysed during this study are available as supplementary files linked to this published article. The data used for comparison with all seed plants are from the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and are, or will soon become, publicly available from

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R.G. is grateful to numerous people and institutions for support during data collection (Supplementary Dataset 1). A.M.H. acknowledges funding by the Swedish Research Council Formas (grant No. 2012-1022-215). We are grateful to S. Pimm and two anonymous reviewers for comments that improved an earlier draft and to B. walker for statistical advice.

Author information

A.M.H., R.G. and M.S.V. designed the study, based on data collected by R.G.; A.M.H. analysed the data with contributions from S.Z.F., E.N.L. and M.S.V.; and A.M.H. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors. All authors approved the final version.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Correspondence to Aelys M. Humphreys or Rafaël Govaerts.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Information, Supplementary References, Supplementary Figure 1 and Supplementary Table 1

  2. Reporting Summary

  3. Supplementary Dataset 1

    Database of modern extinction in seed plants

  4. Supplementary Dataset 2

    The IUCN Red List of extinct seed plant species

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Further reading

Fig. 1: Distribution of extinct and rediscovered seed plant species among geographical regions, climate zones and life forms.
Fig. 2: Phylogenetic distribution of seed plant families with extinct and rediscovered species.