How Many Plants Have We Wiped Out? Here Are 5 Extinction Stories

It isn’t easy to say that anything has truly “gone extinct.”

For starters, an untold number of creatures — especially teensy, nocturnal or otherwise cryptic ones — have vanished before humans ever noticed them.

Once biologists suspect a documented species’ extinction, the challenge shifts to proving whether it has disappeared forever, or just disappeared from sight.

Even when scientists are 99 percent certain something is gone, they may never know whether pathogens, habitat disturbance, invasive species, climate change or some other force drove them out of existence.

“There’s a sense that we’ve got it down — that we know our flora and we know what’s extinct,” said Anne Frances, the lead botanist for NatureServe, which promotes wildlife conservation. That belief couldn’t be further from the truth, she said.

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