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Israeli trees doing well, according to global assessment of 58,497 world species

Globally, 30% of trees threatened with extinction. Most of Israel’s 62 species classed are as being ‘of least concern’ with just one categorized as endangered

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

An ancient tree along the Betzet Stream in the Western Galilee, northern Israel. (CarmelH1, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)
An ancient tree along the Betzet Stream in the Western Galilee, northern Israel. (CarmelH1, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Israel’s wild trees are faring relatively well, according to the latest Global Tree Assessment, which has analyzed the conservation status of every one of the 58,497 known tree species in the world.

Worldwide, 30 percent of tree species are threatened with extinction, and at least 142 tree species are recorded as extinct.

Out of 62 Israeli species, 45 are in the lowest of seven categories, “Least Concern,” according to figures from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the global authority on the status of the natural world.

Four are thought to be “Near Threatened,” which is the category above “Least Concern.” These include species of juniper (Juniperus turbinata), the Jordan tamarisk and the olive tree, which is widely cultivated.

Just one species — the  Negev tamarisk — is categorized as “Endangered.” This is one step before “Critically Endangered,” and two steps before “Extinct in the Wild.” This species is protected by law.

View of fields of olive trees in the lower Galilee, on February 7, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Seven species were not evaluated at all and there was insufficient data about six.

Under another list called ThreatSearch, which combines all published conservation assessment for plants, including the IUCN Red List, as well as national and regional assessments, 45 species are categorized as “Not Threatened,” five “Possibly Threatened” and two “Threatened.”

The IUCN list finds that two species are endemic — only found in Israel — but Dr. Yuval Sapir, director of the Tel Aviv Botanic Garden, said that this was incorrect and that the country has no endemic trees.

A majority of Israel’s native wild trees are found in botanic gardens, arboreta or seed bank collections both in Israel and overseas and 43 species are located in a protected area somewhere in the world, the report said.

While Israel is a small country, roughly the size of New Jersey, and has the fastest-growing population in the developed world, it is blessed with nature reserves, forests and several botanical gardens.

An old Atlantic pistachio tree in the Ela Valley, central Israel. (Davidbena, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Through the Global Tree Assessment, intensive research has been undertaken over the past five years within the framework of the nonprofit Botanic Gardens Conservation International to compile extinction risk information on the 58,497 tree species worldwide.

“We now know that 30 percent of tree species are threatened with extinction, and at least 142 tree species are recorded as extinct,” an introduction to the assessment said.

“The main threats to tree species are forest clearance and other forms of habitat loss, direct exploitation for timber and other products and the spread of invasive pests and diseases. Climate change is also having a clearly measurable impact.”

“Tree diversity is unevenly distributed across the globe. The largest number of tree species is in Central and South America, followed by the other tropical regions of Southeast Asia and Africa.

“The highest proportion of threatened species is found in Tropical Africa, which includes Madagascar, one of the countries with the highest level of threatened trees. Temperate zones of Europe, Asia and North America, which have relatively low tree diversity, also have the lowest proportion of tree species threatened with extinction.”

View of date palm field near Moshav Petza’el, in the Jordan Valley on February 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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