Species come and go, sometimes as part of the evolutionary process of natural selection, other times due to natural catastrophes, or in the worst case, for anthropogenic factors. Unlike animals, plants don’t have any mechanism for surviving if their habitat is destroyed. Hence, they are more vulnerable to extinction; and even when they do survive, they can’t spread because new soil conditions favor other dominant species. Of the 30,000 plant species known to mankind, 12,914 of them have been evaluated, and is estimated that 68% of these are threatened species (Source: IUCN 2016).
The number makes sense when put in the context that more than 99 percent of all species that ever lived on Earth are now extinct. According to American biologist, researcher, and environmental theorist E.O. Wilson, by the year 2100 it is estimated that half of the current species inhabiting this planet, plant and animals, will be extinct. We are experiencing what scientist call “the sixth wave” of extinctions in the past half-billion years. The normal rate of extinction was about one to five species a year, but now it is 1,000 to 10,000 times this rate.
De-extinction is the process of bringing extinct plants and animals species back to life through cloning or selective breeding/seeding. Botanists and paleobotanists are now investigating this technique to resurrect ancient plants to our modern world. In 2012, National Geographic published an online article about Silene stenophylla, the oldest plant to be regenerated, which was grown from 32,000-year-old seeds. The efforts were led by a Russian team and they managed to germinate new seeds, using plant material trapped in the ice 124 feet below ground. The experiment suggests that the permafrost might be a depository for ancient plant and animal material.
With all of the controversy attached to de-extinction, this could be a corrective solution to our modern problem, but the mindset should change before going into this. It never hurts to remind that first mankind must take the preventive solutions to the possible extent, by avoiding activities that could end up destroying our biodiversity.
As landscape architects, we could look at what we have done with cycads– usually planted in interpretive and educational gardens – one of the oldest plants specimens to ever grow in our planet. And yet, their palmetto-looking form makes it fit for the aesthetical appeal in the profession. Can we picture now true prehistoric gardens in our communities? What about restoring entire plant communities? Only time will tell whether the era of the Anthropocene will be catastrophic or one of revitalization through technology…