An intern helps with the conservation assessment of Caribbean species
UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) intern Jean Linsky describes how plant specimens from Kew and elsewhere, combined with literature research and new and exciting software tools, are helping researchers determine the conservation status of Caribbean native plants.
For the last 9 months I have been interning with the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team on the UKOTs Red List project. It has been a chance to learn a lot about conservation work and also to experience all that the team and Kew have to offer. I have had the opportunity to assess the conservation status (Red List) of species from the Caribbean UKOTs alongside staff and other volunteers, as well as attend lectures and events for other projects at Kew. My time at Kew has given me insight not only into the conservation work that the UKOTs team does, but all the other work, such as horticulture and visitor interaction, that happens at Kew.
Jean Linsky displaying a herbarium specimen
Red Listing Caribbean Species
In my project I am using a newly developed Conservation Assessment Module (CAM) within BRAHMS to assess the conservation status of Cordia and Varronia (Boraginaceae) species in the Caribbean. This involves gathering information through a mix of digitising specimens from Kew’s herbarium collections and consulting collections already in the UKOTs Online Herbarium. I referred to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) for collections from other herbaria. To gather ecological information on each species, I researched information from regional floras and worked with experts from the UK Overseas Territories.
The geo-referencing (locating the specimen on a map, based on information about where it was collected) of each specimen record is key to assessing the range of each species and I was lucky enough to be able to expand on the work of two previous interns, Alex Roberts and Andrew Budden, and to use mapping resources created by them.
The plant specimen records in the CAM are linked to GeoCAT, an online GIS tool used to assess how widespread the plant is and how much land area it covers. These are two of the criteria used in the Red Listing process. Once all the data for the assessments is collected in the CAM and a Red List Category is assigned, they will be submitted to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species for addition to the list and can then be used for international conservation planning.
Cordia rickseckerii growing in Puerto Rico (Image: Martin Hamilton)
A big highlight for me has been interacting with collaborators from the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as Puerto Rico; getting their ‘in the field’ knowledge has been invaluable to my assessments. Also, my involvement in the development of the Conservation Assessment Module has given me insight into the process of data management in conservation, not just the final product of an assessment. The CAM is (and will continue to be) a very, very useful tool for plant conservation.
Jean working on conservation assessments with Bryan Naqqi Manco, a conservation specialist in TCI
Beyond the Internship
My time at Kew has not been confined to the Herbarium or my desk. The ‘family sorts’ (a term used by teams at Kew for the meetings to identify plants collected from the field) allowed some close-up time with plant specimens. There were also many lectures given by both staff and members of the Kew Mutual Improvement Society (KMIS), with talks on all kinds of subjects including trips to Western Australia and the ‘waggle dance’ performed by bees in the hive! The opportunity to be involved in testing the eMonocot Key to Monocot Plant Families was a great way to find out the type of work done by other teams at Kew.
I am grateful to the UKOTs team for the opportunity I have had at Kew, as well as for the massive amount of conservation knowledge I have gained from them. I am glad to have been able to be a part of the development and progress of this Red List Project and look forward to hearing all about the future work the team does.
- Jean -