A Revolutionary AI Could Save the World’s Plants From Extinction – Popular Mechanics

3 minutes, 1 second Read
  • Accurately understanding the conservation status of a particular plant can help scientists leverage resources to protect the most vulnerable.
  • Researchers at the Royal Botanical Garden, Kew in London used AI to generate an extinction prediction list for all flowering plants, based on assessments of 55,000 plants conducted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
  • This list can be used by scientists and concerned citizens alike, and can be accessed on the botanical garden’s online portal.

The Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG), Kew in London is one of the world’s premier botanical research facilities. Back in October of 2023, the storied institution delivered some bad news—by its estimates, 45 percent of all known flowering plants, along with 77 percent of undiscovered vascular plants, faced extinction due to climate change.

Now, in a follow-up study, researchers are allowing users access to this mountain of data and have leveraged the power of artificial intelligence to catalog the extinction threat faced by all 328,565 species of flowering plants. The results of these AI-generated extinction predictions were published in the journal New Phytologist on Monday.

“We hope that these predictions can be used for people to apply to their own local biodiversity to find out if they’ve got a threatened species in their house, garden or local park that needs protecting,” RBG Kew’s Steven Bachman, a co-author of the original study, said in a press statement. “At a larger scale, our findings can be used by scientists to prioritize and accelerate extinction assessments for the plants we’ve identified as probably threatened but haven’t been officially assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List yet.”

To develop this extinction risk assessment, RBG Kew scientists relied on a type of model known as a Bayesian Additive Regression Tree (BART). Theirs was trained on the more than 53,000 species already accessed by IUCN, the international organization responsible for listing species—whether flora or fauna—as “near threatened,” “vulnerable,” or worse. This allowed the AI-powered model to generate a likely assessment for the remaining 275,004 species that remain un-assessed.

The scientists also state that these assessments are “moving targets”—some plants can improve while others can deteriorate quickly, a condition that’ll likely become more common as the planet continues to warm. This means updating the baseline datasets that power these models, including IUCN’s Red List and the World Checklist of Vascular Plants. This should help keep RBG Kew’s AI-generated predictions as accurate as possible.

“Being assessed, particularly as Endangered or Critically Endangered, literally changes the fate of a plant, as once its extinction risk is known, it can be prioritized for conservation,” RBG Kew’s Eimear Nic Lughadha said in a press statement. “our predictions will provide a really useful indication as to which species we consider most likely to be threatened with extinction and, for the first time, our level of confidence in each species’ prediction.”

The researchers note that the extinction prediction list is a tool designed for both scientists and your average plant parent, and can be accessed at RBG Kew’s Plants of the World Online Portal.

Plants provide natural ways to solve the challenges posed by climate change, whether by sucking carbon out of the air or protecting coasts from erosion. Knowing their extinction status will help us understand what tools we still have at our disposal, and identify when one of nature’s remedies faces annihilation.

Headshot of Darren Orf

Darren lives in Portland, has a cat, and writes/edits about sci-fi and how our world works. You can find his previous stuff at Gizmodo and Paste if you look hard enough. 

This post was originally published on this site

Similar Posts