Vascular plant extinctions in California: A critical assessment

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Rejmánek, Marcel
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Aim: Extinctions of species and subspecific taxa in hotspots of biodiversity deserve special attention. After more than 40 years of major efforts, estimates of extinct plant taxa in California seem to be somewhat stabilized. The time is ripe for an attempt to critically evaluate our current knowledge of plant extinctions in California and make a comparison with other countries with mediterranean-type climates.

Location: California.

Methods: Besides species-specific studies and personal communications, major databases and state floras were consulted.

Results: Compared with all numbers published earlier, the current analysis ended with smaller numbers of globally extinct plant species and taxa (13 and 17, respectively) and larger numbers of species and taxa extinct in California, but still present in at least one other state or country (15 and 15). For each species, life form, habitat, year of the last collection and assumed drivers of extinction are listed.

Main conclusions: Most of the presumed extinct taxa were originally present in one or two counties and often are known from only one or a very few collections. Therefore, the most robust generalization regarding factors contributing to taxon extinctions is a small range size and a low original abundance. Most of the presumed globally extinct taxa were originally present in lowlands where most of the human population and habitat destruction are concentrated. Taxa limited to special habitats, like wetlands, seem to be more predisposed to extinction. Among assumed drivers of plant extinction, agriculture, urbanization and development in general are the most often cited possibilities. Compared with other countries with mediterranean-type climates, the extinction rate of vascular plants in California is lower than in Israel, comparable with the Cape Province of South Africa, Western Australia and continental Mediterranean European countries, and higher than in Chile.


Rejmánek, Marcel. 2017. “Vascular Plant Extinctions in California: A Critical Assessment.” Diversity and Distributions,