Over 40% of the tree species present in Europe face extinction, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) notes in its first “red list” of at-risk European trees, issued on Friday.
The conservation body studied 454 tree species in Europe, some of which also grow elsewhere in the world. About 42% are threatened, presenting a “high risk of extinction,” the report stated.
Where endemic species – those that grow only in Europe – are concerned, 58% are threatened and 15% are in critical danger.
The main causes of the decline of Europe’s trees include the introduction of invasive species, unsustainable logging and urban development. Other threats include disease, deforestation, livestock farming and the modification of ecosystems, linked mainly to fires.
“It is alarming that over half of Europe’s endemic tree species are now threatened with extinction,” Craig Hilton, head of the IUCN Red List Unit, is quoted as saying in a press release.
“Trees are essential for life on earth, and European trees in all their diversity are a source of food and shelter for countless animal species such as birds and squirrels and play a key economic role,” he added, calling on the European Union to work to ensure their survival.
According to the IUCN, trees in the sorbus genus are particularly affected: three-quarters of the 170 European species of sorbus are considered in danger.
Another tree species, the horse chestnut, is now assessed as “vulnerable”. Its decline is caused by the leaf-miner moth, an insect originating in the Balkans that has spread to the rest of Europe.