NOV 14, 2022 1:00 PM PST

Half of all palm tree species at risk of extinction

WRITTEN BY: Ryan Vingum

Palm trees are a fixture of tropical locales. We often think of them when we think of warm vacation locations, including the Caribbean and Pacific. But they are more than just pretty to look at. They provide a range of resources for people and animals, including food and habitats that are essential to many people’s way of life.

Unfortunately, many species of palm tree are over harvested and face extinction. For example, palm oil extracted from oil palm trees is a sought-after product used in things like peanut butter spread. However, palm oil is over harvested and has led to a habitat destruction in certain areas of the world.

However, it can be challenging to determine how many species of palm tree are threatened or, even, determining whether a species is threatened at all. A lot of data and analysis are needed to draw these conclusions.  

A team of researchers have turned to machine learning tools as a way to better understand which palm tree species face threats of extinction. Their analysis concluded that more than half of palm tree species in the world (about 1000) are at significant risk for extinction for a variety of reasons, including agricultural. This includes about 185 palm species that are used regularly for human needs, such as food. They also identified, through their analysis, specific areas in great need of palm tree conservation efforts. The team’s work is described in a recent article published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The team used a range of data from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and fed the data into a machine learning program. Machine learning allowed researchers to more quickly sift through data about threatened specific and reduce the cost of doing such work. It could even give researchers a way to better analyze lesser-known species, highlighting the extent to which certain species of plant or animal life face extinction threats.

Sources: Mongabay; Nature Ecology and Evolution

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Science writer and editor, with a focus on simplifying complex information about health, medicine, technology, and clinical drug development for a general audience.
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