Every species counts
Two new completed publications reveal just why every species matters to the health of our planet, and why we need to change our perception of their 'usefulness'.
On 11 September, a fascinating document was published by the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and the Zoological Society of London, documenting the 100 most threatened species in the world today and making a compelling case not just for their protection but for a global change in our cultural conscience. The document, called Priceless or Worthless?, includes a wide range of species from around the world – from frogs to forest trees, from lichens to sloths, and makes for an extraordinary read.
A strong and consistent moral and ethical stance needs to be taken, they argue, that all species have a right to exist. ‘If we accept that a few species can be lost, or that there is an economic argument that justifies extinction, then one by one the species in this book will disappear.’ And these are just the thin-end of the wedge – without a change in attitude there will be many more species becoming extinct in the future.
Tahina spectabilis - known as the suicide or self-destructing palm as it dies after flowering
Suicide palms and medicinal yams
There are many plants in this Top 100 list, including several that botanists at Kew have worked with and are helping to conserve – the suicide palm or dimaka, Tahina spectabilis, from north-west Madagascar, and the wild yam Dioscorea strydomiana, are two notable examples. Both have fascinating stories – you can read more about them by clicking on the links here or below.
Also notable is that many species are from East Africa. Kew has just completed a 64-year-project to document the flora of tropical East Africa. Today (13 September), a celebration of this enormous feat is taking place at Kew with many of the international partners who have authored and been involved with this project. In total 135 scientists from 21 countries helped compile this complete set of publications. The flora – which takes up two metres of shelf space and includes 267 parts – documents the 12,104 wild plant species of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania (representing 3-4 per cent of the entire world’s population of plants).
A collaboration to be proud of
Henk Beentje, current editor of the Flora of Tropical East Africa (FTEA) says, 'More than just a flora has emerged from this project – many people have been trained, friendships forged and solid networks built, which is an excellent result for the conservation of plants in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.’
'The FTEA, like all floras, is all about communication – without proper identification and names there is no communication about plants, and without communication all work on and with wild plants rests on quicksand. Now all further work on the wild plants of this region will be built on a solid foundation – not just botanical work but work on local uses by local people, ecology, vegetation work, zoology, and, of course, conservation.'
Every species matters
Each of the species in both the publications mentioned here is invaluable in terms of the fact, that although we not perceive their direct value to human beings, they each have a valuable place in the habitat they live in, supporting the health and stability of the planet as a whole.
The good news is that many organisations are working to conserve species, and are working together to pool resources to increase their effectiveness. The even better news is that each of us on a personal level can make a difference. At Kew, you can pick a species to adopt and help save, or you can support Kew’s conservation work through the Kew Fund or by becoming a member, or even simply by visiting.
So, why not take a look at the Support Kew webpages, enjoy the compelling films, plan a visit, and find out more about why plants need your help and what you can do today. We can save species - but we need your support.
Oscar Wilde is often quoted as saying ‘Nowadays we know the price of everything and the value of nothing’. Why not prove him wrong?
- Plant profile of the suicide palm
- Read about Kew's discovery of the wild yam
- The Flora of Tropical East Africa
- Adopt a seed to save a species
- Read the Kew magazine article on FTEA
- Read the BBC article and see Henk Beentje launch the final part of the FTEA