The leading conservation research group NatureServe released a new report on Monday, which revealed that 34% of plants and 40% of animals are at risk of extinction in the United States.
The report found that everything from cacti and crayfish to iconic species such as the Venus flytrap is in danger of disappearing and could affect daily American lives. A network of over 1,000 scientists across the United States and Canada contributed data to NatureServe’s analysis.
The research group said its new report was its most in-depth analysis yet, combining five decades’ worth of its own data on the health of animals, plants and ecosystems.
“When you have a habitat and species start going extinct or perhaps smaller in number, eventually that can cause the collapse of that habitat type,” Sean O’Brien, president of NatureServe, told news agency Reuters.
“The real trouble comes when you lose those keystone species. Think of eastern North America. We lost our eastern woodland bison hundreds of years ago,” Wesley Knapp, lead botanist at NatureServe, said.
“We have seen a collapse of grassland habitats in the east, and you can kind of connect the fact that we’ve already lost our eastern bison, which was a driver of ecosystem function,” he added.
The report found that the threats against plants, animals and ecosystems are diverse but include climate change, polluting of rivers, damming, habitat degradation and land conversion.
Texas, California and the southeastern US are where the highest percentages of animals, plants and ecosystems are at risk, the report found. One of the biggest contributors in these regions is the conversion of wild spaces into farms.
According to Knapp, these areas are historically the richest in biodiversity in the country but have also experienced rapid population growth and severe human encroachment on nature.
Knapp highlighted the threats facing plants, which typically get less conservation funding than animals. There are nearly 1,250 plants in NatureServe’s “critically imperiled” category, the final stage before extinction.
NatureServe Vice President of Data Regan Smyth added that freshwater mussels are also threatened with extinction: “These are not species most people get excited about, but they play very important roles in ecosystems. They’re what filter the water and keep it clean.”
“If you care about going fishing with your son or your daughter, you’re going to care about having clean, dynamic rivers. The fish that lives in those rivers depend on the ecosystem service that those mussels provide,” he added.
O’Brien said the report’s conclusions were “terrifying” and hoped it would help lawmakers understand the urgency of passing ecosystem protections, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.