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News from Kew's Sampled Red List Index for plants

Maiko Lutz
7 November 2013
Blog team: 
Maiko Lutz from Kew's Geographic Information Science (GIS) Unit gives an update on the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) project for plants.

If you follow the work of Kew’s Geographic Information Science (GIS) unit you will be aware of the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) project for plants. We even won an award from the Species Survival Commission for our efforts! I’d like to bring you up-to-date with what has been happening with the project and where things are heading.

Firstly, a quick reminder about what we are doing. We’re monitoring a set of plant species from all over the world in order to find out how endangered plants are faring and how that is changing over time. You should think of it a bit like a barometer indicating change, telling us whether things are getting better or worse for the world's plants. We presented the results of our first assessment in 2010 and showed that 1 in 5 plants are at risk, which got a lot of attention.

Cover of the 2012 SRLI report

We’re now a team of 6 people and were planning the next stages of the project - there are a lot of species and much work to be done.

Moving forward

The 2010 assessment marked the baseline of our barometer and we need to take a health check on plants again to see how they are doing.

Herbarium specimens need to be searched and scoured, and field teams will be going on discovery expeditions to hopefully find some of these really rare species.

Opportunistic collection of SRLI species during the drive north to Ambilobe, Madagascar

SRLI in Madagascar

Madagascar has a high number of SRLI species and excellent networks with Kew so it was the ideal country to test our methods and rediscover some of the species on our list. We work closely with local botanists and experts in the field, as they are vital in identifying species from difficult specimens.

Some SRLI species collected in Madagascar

During the 3 weeks in Madagascar, we managed to find 25 SRLI species, including numerous threatened species such as the Vulnerable orchid Sobennikoffia poissoniana.

Healthy and burned cycads in Madagascar

We also found the only cycad known from Madagascar - Cycas thouarsii (Least Concern). While the species seems to be doing well at some of the locations, we also came across a site where most of the individuals had either been removed (most likely for the horticultural trade) or burned.

Madagascan fauna

We were also fortunate enough to come across much wildlife during our expeditions such as the beautiful Indri (Endangered), numerous chameleons and many snakes.

Here's a snap of the SRLI Kew Madagascar field team with GIS's Maiko Lutz and Steve Bachman second and third from the left, with local specialists

Making use of citizen science

For the next phase of the project we will mobilise a global network of local botanists, botanic gardens and conservationists to establish an international, broad-based monitoring scheme. But we don’t only intend to use traditional data gathering methods as they can be slow and resource-heavy. We believe that existing projects (such as iNaturalist) and the new idea of the ‘citizen scientist’ may play an important role in the future of the SRLI for Plants project.

The first phase of the project gave us a snapshot of the status of biodiversity, using dried herbarium specimens and literature sources. However, to truly understand the changing status of the world’s biodiversity, targeted fieldwork is essential to update this information.

- Maiko -

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