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Areas across the Northeast have lost an average of one-fourth of their local plant biodiversity in the last 50 to 150 years.
Certain plant families had even higher rates of loss, says Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maine.
Research - Team - Century - Records - Mount
When her research team compared 19th century botanical records from Mount Desert Island (most of which is protected as Acadia National Park) to a recent survey of plants, it found 16 percent—approximately one of six—of the plants documented in the late 1800s are now extinct on the island.
Forty-three percent of orchids and 43 percent of lilies recorded in 1894 are gone from Mount Desert Island, says McDonough MacKenzie. Another 33 percent of the plant species declined in abundance.
Loss - Plants - Region - Places - Rain
"The loss of native plants is dramatic across our region, right here where we live. It is not confined to faraway places like tropical rain forests or areas being paved over for development," says McDonough MacKenzie.
Causes are likely a combination of habitat loss, climate change, damage from deer, and pollution, she says.
Northeast - Sites - Research - Team - Drop
Each of the 13 Northeast sites examined by the research team showed a drop in the proportion of native plant species in local flora.
The study found no correlation between conservation status and the magnitude of local plant biodiversity loss. While losses ranged between 3.5 percent (Finger Lakes region in New York) and 53 percent (Staten Island, New York) of local plant species, the presence of conservation lands was not associated with smaller losses.
Species - One - Climate - Change - Acid
"We can't point to a particular species and say, "This one was lost because of climate change, this one because of acid rain, this one because of habitat loss, and this one because of random chance. Sometimes species go extinct in nature,"" says McDonough MacKenzie.
"Our study primarily sheds light on just how widespread those losses are, including in...
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