'Time running out' for many maple trees: Report reveals extinction threat

An updated report reveals that 36 maple tree species are at high risk of extinction in the near future, with 75 per cent of the threatened species geographically restricted in their native ranges.

More than 30 species of maple trees, which are cherished for their colourful appearances and syrup production, are in decline and facing extinction in the imminent future, says a new report.

Published and commissioned in September 2020 by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the revised and extended edition of the Red List of Acer offers details on the conservation status of all 158 species.

The review indicates an elevated extinction threat for more than one in five species (36 total) of Acer trees, otherwise known as maple trees, in the near future, with experts urging for additional conservation measures. It also said with 75 per cent of the threatened species are geographically restricted in their native ranges.

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Across the globe, the report highlights that more than a third of maple species are experiencing a decline of habitat as a result of urban development and increased agriculture. Timber harvesting is also a major contributor to the loss, affecting 25 per cent of threatened maple species.

In a statement, Douglas Justice, associate director at the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden, said he has already seen firsthand the increased cutting and "alarming loss" of maple tree habitat in southeast Asia in just a few short years.

"Time is running out for the world’s biodiversity. Every recent survey of plants and animals in the wild points to this. And as robust as Acer species are, they are certainly not immune," said Justice. "This is happening nearly everywhere that rarer maples exist. And because of climate change, the narrow habitats that support species at the margins of arid places and at the tops of mountains, are quickly disappearing."

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Maple tree/Unsplash

Maple trees. Photo: Chris MtP on Unsplash

Of the 36 maple species that were identified by researchers as being in jeopardy, there are seven that are critically endangered, 14 are endangered and 15 are vulnerable to extinction.

Maple trees are a part of one of the largest Northern Hemisphere tree genera, with populations in subtropical and tropical regions, reaching as far south as Indonesia. Two of the closest relatives of the North American sugar maple, Acer skutchii and A. binzayedii, which produce maple syrup, are in "desperate need of conservation," according to the report.

The study also discusses the importance of maple trees, stating they are among "our most iconic trees" and are hugely popular as ornamentals in parks, gardens and open spaces, and are the prime subjects of leaf peeping, an autumnal pastime for admirers of nature.

"We still have an opportunity to save species from extinction, but it will take expertise and resources, and the co-ordinated, collaborative efforts by the world’s botanical gardens to make it work," said Justice.

Thumbnail courtesy of Chris MtP on Unsplash

Sources: BGCI | CTV