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49 trees species in Malawi under threat of extinction

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At least 49 of Malawi’s natural trees species are under threat of extinction, a global research has found.

According to the State of the World’s Trees report dated September 2021, Malawi has 730 trees species, eight of which are native to this country.

The world’s first-of-its-kind study pooled together over 500 researchers and 60 institutions from around the world for the project which was coordinated by the UK-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

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After five years of compiling risk information for nearly 60,000 tree species worldwide, the researchers found that 30 percent of these species are in danger of extinction, while at least 142 are already dead.

The report says threats to tree species have a great impact on the essential ecosystem services they provide and also lead to the direct loss of benefits to people from the goods provided by trees.

“Tree species are an essential source of food, medicines, timber, fuel, fibres and ornamental materials. They are also of highly important cultural, spiritual and symbolic significance,” reads the report of the research, an initiative of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

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The researchers cite the following factors – in descending order of the magnitude of their contribution to forest loss –as risking these species: crop production, logging, livestock farming, residential and commercial development, fire, energy production and mining, woold and pulp plantations, invasive species and climate change.

On development projects being among the factors endangering existence of tree species worldwide, one of the leading researchers in the project, Adrian Newton, told Malawi News through an emailed questionnaire that there is need to reconcile development and protection of trees.

Newton, a professor in Conservation Ecology at Bournemouth University in the UK, said one approach is to ensure that planning of development projects fully factors in all diverse values that trees might have for local people.

He said trees may be valued by local people for their aesthetic worth, as a carbon store, because they provide shade, because they are a habitat for other species or for their health benefits.

“Often, many of these values are simply not considered by the people making the decisions about infrastructural decisions such as road building. They are not factoring in the real value of these trees to people.

“Were the local people consulted about how they value these trees, for example? If such values were recognised by decision-makers, there would be far less environmental degradation,” said Newton who also co-chairs the IUCN Species Survival Commission Global Trees Specialist Group (GTSG) which conducts Red List assessments of the world’s tree species.

Writing for The Conversation about the research, Newton said while individual trees are important for both humans and wildlife, the collective value of forest ecosystems to the world is far higher.

He said forests cover around 31 percent of the world’s land surface and their total economic value has been estimated at around US$150 trillion. And forests contain around 50 percent of the world’s terrestrial carbon and help provide 75 percent of its accessible freshwater.

“These benefits could be lost if tree species go extinct. As tree species die out, forest ecosystems are placed at greater risk of collapse.

“Conserving both forests and the tree species they contain can combat climate change and preserve biodiversity. The world must urgently protect threatened trees, restore degraded forests and ensure that the harvesting of useful tree species is sustainable,” he said in an article published on September 15.

The State of the World’s Trees report cites rosewood and mahogany, a highly-prized tropical hardwood tree, as among those under threat globally. Both species are listed in the National Parks and Wildlife Act as among the protected and endangered species in Malawi.

In August 2019, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (Cites) included Mulanje Cedar and rosewood (locally known as mukula) –under its list of tree species that require particular controls to slow their rapid collapse.

Mulanje Cedar, Malawi’s national tree, is already on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); it is considered critically endangered.

On October 1, the UK government announced a K460 million financial support towards tackling illegal wildlife trade in Malawi by strengthening judicial processes.

The project which will be led by the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust is meant to increase protection for rosewood trees – alongside rhinos and pangolins.

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