Extinctions tend to happen every few million or so years. These extinctions don’t just happen to animals, but plants as well. It shouldn’t be surprising, given that plants are living organisms that adapt to their environment. Changes that affect a plant’s ability to survive and/or reproduce can lead to extinction, and we have evidence that this has happened many times over in the past. Here’s how plants, just like animals, can go extinct.
1. Cold and lack of sunlight can kill off species.
When the meteor that took out most of the dinosaurs shot up dust and smoke into the atmosphere, it created winter-like conditions that blocked out the sun and gave rise to much cooler temperatures. Over 50% of North American plant species died out, since plants need sunlight in order to survive. Researchers have determined that deciduous plants might have been better equipped to survive since they are able to grow faster, as fossil records suggest a higher proportion of deciduous plants post-impact.
2. The opposite, too much heat and/or CO2, can also lead to extinctions.
While too little sunlight and cold conditions can kill off plants, so can too much heat. During the transition between the Triassic and Jurassic periods, there was a mass extinction caused by global warming. Half the species on Earth went extinct, and plants were not spared from this. Not only were CO2 levels higher, but temperatures also became more stressful to a majority of plants. In this case as in the last, certain plant species were better able to adapt to these new conditions and survive.
3. Humans activities can cause plants to go extinct.
Many scientists agree that we’re in a sixth mass extinction event right now. Not just animals, but plants are dying off at alarming rates. Our estimates of the natural extinction rate show that currently, plants are dying up to 500 times faster than they should be. Human activities have caused more than 600 plant species to go extinct, whether through loss of habitat or changing local environmental conditions.