Kew and Missouri announce the development of The Plant List, a working list of all plant species to aid plant conservation worldwide
20 September 2010
The CEOs of Missouri Botanical Garden and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew will take the opportunity of their joint attendance at the 4th Global Botanic Gardens Congress to announce the imminent delivery of The Plant List, an important new resource addressing needs identified in the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). Its importance lies in the need for accurate identification and reliable names for all human communication about plant life and its uses.
Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation called for ‘a working list of all known plant species’ to be made available by 2010. Although the international botanical community has made very significant progress towards this goal since it was adopted in 2002, until recently, full delivery against the target seemed unlikely.
However, for the past two years botanists and IT specialists at Kew and St Louis have been developing and testing an innovative new approach to generate a working list of all plant species to be called The Plant List. This approach involves merging existing resources containing synonymy through an automated, rules-based approach. The success of the new approach is now evident, though more work is needed before the new product can be made widely available.
Peter Raven (President, Missouri Botanical Garden) said "We now have The Plant List and are tremendously excited about the difference it will make to botanical science and especially to plant conservation. The creation of The Plant List is the most significant collaboration ever between Missouri Botanical Garden and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and a historic accomplishment."
Professor Stephen Hopper (Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) added "We are delighted that this collaboration has succeeded in accelerating progress towards this important Target, which is fundamental to planning, implementation and monitoring of plant conservation programmes worldwide.
Without accurate names, authoritatively determined, understanding and communication about global plant life would descend into inefficient chaos, costing vast sums of money and literally threatening lives in the case of plants used for food or medicine."
Bob Allkin (Information Technology Project Manager, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) explained: "We have just completed a second full cycle of our new approach and are evaluating the results and refining the process. Our aim is to complete a third cycle by the autumn so as to be in a position to publish a Target 1 product in the last quarter of 2010. It’s a really significant information product of direct use to sustainable development and conservation initiatives."
Chuck Miller (Vice President - Information Technology and CIO, Missouri Botanical Garden) said “Adopting a heuristic informatics approach to assemble The Plant List was a breakthrough. By capturing taxonomic knowledge into a rulebase, computers could be employed to aid the task of sorting out the millions of plant name records assembled over the past two decades in Tropicos and Kew’s World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and other sources to produce this product that achieves GSPC Target 1.”
Alan Paton (Assistant Keeper, Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) stressed that there were still important data sets to be added to the resource. "The working list takes as its starting point all the names and synonymy relationships from Kew’s World Checklist of Selected Plant Families, which covers 176 families and c. 125,000 species as the result of collaboration over 16 years by 132 specialists from 25 countries. This detailed coverage for about one third of all known flowering species is complemented by names and relationships extracted from regional lists within Tropicos. Over the coming months we are looking to incorporate key names resources on peas and beans, daisies and grasses, so that the working list is as comprehensive as possible. We are grateful to all our collaborators who have been so generous in making their data available for this automated process. These collaborators include The International Compositae Alliance, Ildis and many others. We look forward to involving more collaborators to improve the product once it is widely available."
Bob Magill (Senior Vice President, Science and Conservation, Missouri Botanical Garden) observed that "the declining numbers of botanical taxonomists worldwide forced a more novel approach to assembling the list, if the GSPC 2010 Target 1 was to be met. We collaborated with Kew to combine their records with over a million plant names from our Tropicos system, which has been our main taxonomic resource since 1982. We used names and synonymy relationships from nearly 20 regional floras and checklists and worked out a rules-based approach to merge them with Kew’s records into The Plant List."
Eimear Nic Lughadha (Head of Science Policy and Co-ordination, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) commented. "It’s been a rollercoaster of a project, and the result will be far from perfect but it will be the most comprehensive list to date, will include almost all scientific names at species level that have been published for plants. At least 80% of the names in the list will be clearly flagged either as accepted (the correct name for a known plant species) or as a synonym with a pointer to the correct name. We know that many current users of the International Plant Names Index and of Tropicos need exactly this facility, especially for families not already covered in Kew’s World Checklist of Selected Plant Families and/or in the Catalogue of Life, since knowing the correct scientific name for a plant and all its synonyms is fundamental to gaining access to the published information about that species."
For Further Information:
Missouri Botanical Garden: Communications Department: Peggy Lents or Julie Bierach, Public Information Office, +1 (314) 577-5141/ (314) 577-9598 www.mobot.org
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew: Press Office: Anna Quenby, Head of Public Relations or Bronwyn Friedlander, Public Relations Manager; email@example.com; +44 (0)20 8332 5607
Notes to Editors:
Global Strategy for Plant Conservation
The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) was first proposed at the XVI International Botanical Congress in St. Louis in 1999. Subsequently, it was adopted as a function of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and is being fed into government policy around the world. The GSPC highlights the importance of plants and the ecosystem services they provide for all life on earth, and aims to ensure their conservation. The GSPC has 16 outcome-oriented targets under 4 main objectives:
- Ultimately, to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity
- To provide a mechanism to harmonise existing plant conservation initiatives
- To enhance the ecosystem approach and focus on vital role of plants in ecosystem functioning
- To provide a pilot study for CBD on setting targets, and a means to develop the CBD thematic programmes http://www.cbd.int/gspc/intro.shtml / http://www.bgci.org/worldwide/gspc/
Global Strategy for Plant Conservation Target 1
The first of the outcome oriented targets seen as fundamental to understanding and documenting plant diversity is: (i) A widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world flora
Global Partnership for Plant Conservation
The Global Partnership for Plant Conservation brings together international, regional and national organisations in order to contribute to the implementation of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). Over 180 countries backed the Global Strategy at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in April 2002. This recognised that up to two thirds of the world's plant species could be threatened by the end of this century unless urgent steps are taken to safeguard tens of thousands of species. The strategy, which has set 16 targets in plant conservation to be achieved by 2010, sets very high targets and to achieve them, a great international effort is required by everyone from policymakers to educators. To help nations meet the targets, a consortium of international and national plant and conservation agencies have formed the Global Partnership. The Partnership is working to make sense of the GSPC and provide tools and resources on how each country can plan and act to meet the targets. A Secretariat for the Partnership is being hosted by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), and is supported by HSBC through the Investing in Nature initiative.http://www.plants2010.org/
The Plant List, a working list of known plant species, currently has some significant limitations: There is no coverage of ferns and fern allies (pteridophytes) which comprise c. 10,000 species nor of algae (perhaps 30,000 known species) Coverage of monocots is comprehensive and fairly consistent but the completeness and accuracy of the synonymy information for other flowering plants is variable. Because of the nature of the information resources from which the list has been collated, coverage is probably weakest for SE Asia and for genera commencing with letters in the latter half of the alphabet. A dissemination mechanism is in the early stages of development, so the list is not yet widely accessible. We hope to provide web access to the data in the last quarter of 2010. Collaboration thereafter will be vital to ensure that the limitations summarized above are addressed so that The Plant List can meet more fully the needs of the conservation community.
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
This Checklist gives information on the accepted scientific names and synonyms of selected plant families. It allows users to search for all the scientific names of a particular plant, or the areas of the world in which it grows (distribution). The checklist includes 151 Seed Plant families. Different families are in different stages of review as indicated in the family list. WCSPF has been developed at Kew over the past 16 years, is edited by Rafael Govaerts, supported by many other Kew staff (systematists and biodiversity informatics specialists) and by a network of 132 specialists from 25 countries worldwide www.kew.org/wcsp
Tropicos® has been Missouri Botanical Garden’s primary supporting database for botanical taxonomic research since 1982 and contains over one million plant names with synonymy, protologues, types, distributions, references, high resolution images and almost four million cross-referenced specimen records. The Internet face of Tropicos is tropicos.org, which provides open worldwide access, including integrated links to the botanicus.org repository of digitized botanical reference literature and other resources. It also incorporates datasets for numerous different floristic projects each covering different parts of the world – Madagascar, Peru, Mesoamerica, China etc. These often reflect conflicting taxonomic views as to how many plants there are in a particular genus or which names are synonyms of which. Resolving such conflicts is part of the challenge for our Target 1 work.
International Plant Names Index
The International Plant Names Index (IPNI) is a database of the names and associated basic bibliographical details of seed plants, ferns and fern allies. Its goal is to eliminate the need for repeated reference to primary sources for basic bibliographic information about plant names. The data are freely available and are gradually being standardized and checked. IPNI is the product of an ongoing collaboration between the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the Harvard University Herbaria and the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research, Canberra and is a dynamic resource, depending on direct contributions by all members of the botanical community. Unlike The Plant List, and the World Checklist Series, IPNI does not present views on correct names and synonym relationships www.ipni.org
Catalogue of Life - The Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life is planned to become a comprehensive catalogue of all known species of organisms on Earth. Rapid progress has been made recently and the tenth edition of the Annual Checklist, contains 1,257,735 species. This is probably just about 2/3 of the world's known species. This means that for many groups it continues to be deficient, and users will notice that many species are still missing from the Catalogue. The majority of the plant content within the Catalogue of Life derives from lists provided by Kew, MO and collaborators. The Plant List incorporates the peer-reviewed content disseminated via the Catalogue of Life together with other synonymy collated via a rules-based approach to produce a comprehensive working list as required by GSPC Target 1.www.catalogueoflife.org
Encyclopedia of Life – EoL’s objective is to offer a web-page for every known species of life on earth. Initiatives such as EoL depend on resources such as The Plant List in order to relate names to species so that all information about a particular species can more easily be obtained and synthesized.www.eol.org
Paton, A.J., Brummitt, N., Govaerts, R., Harman, K. Hinchcliffe, S., Allkin, R. & NicLughadha, E. (2008). Towards Target 1 Of The Global Strategy For Plant Conservation: A Working List Of All Known Plant Species – Progress and Prospects. Taxon 57: 602–611.
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