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Launching the UKOTs Online Herbarium

Sara Barrios
22 May 2012

We are bringing the unique and amazing plants that grow in the UKOTs, including those from the Caribbean, a little closer to you in celebration of International Day of Biological Diversity. Just a shame we can't bring the Caribbean weather too!

From previous posts, we have shown some of the range of plants and habitats that can be found in the Overseas Territories. We have also demonstrated how we make a difference with our conservation activities. However, what must not be forgotten is that all this conservation activity is underpinned by good quality data. It may be a surprise to some, but despite years of botanical exploration, many countries around the world don’t have a modern botanical inventory i.e. a list of all the species that occur there. The UKOTs team at Kew and our colleagues from the territories and other botanical institutions around the world are working together to gather this information for all the UKOTs into a single resource.

Let’s go virtual!

We are very proud to announce the launch of a virtual herbarium for the UKOTs, one of our big achievements for 2011. The UKOTs Online Herbarium is a digital version of the preserved plant specimens held in the Herbarium at Kew and in many of the UKOTs own herbaria. Its main aim is to unlock information that Kew holds in its plant collections and key botanical literature and to make it freely accessible to all, especially our partners in the territories.

Homepage of the UKOTs Online Herbarium

Homepage of the UKOTs Online Herbarium

Building a virtual Herbarium

Since the beginning of the project in 2009 information and images of over 17,000 specimens have been added to the database. We included all of Kew’s historical specimens from the UKOTs as well as more recent collections made as part of our recent and on-going projects. Some of the specimens we digitised from Kew’s Herbarium are as old as 1808! All records have been comprehensively digitised: we added the data from the labels into the database; created high resolution images using a HerbScan; and we also assigned latitude and longitude to all specimens with the help of GoogleEarth and country specific gazetteers (geographical directories of places with accurate location data). This last process is known as geo-referencing and it is very important if, later on, we want to be able to use these data in a conservation context like making an assessment of threat for the species in the wild.

Kew's oldest UKOTs specimen

Oldest specimen in the UKOTs Online Herbarium. Commidendrum rotundifolium (Roxb.) DC. collected by William Burchell in 1808 on the remote island of St. Helena

Putting together specimen information for each territory helped us to compile lists of species for each territory, as we have evidence showing which species have been found there. This was then complemented with names of species from a number of sources including regional and local floras as well as published and unpublished checklists. All species names were checked against the most up-to-date sources, including The Plant List. Species level information, such as plant description, distribution and habitat are now being added.

Databasing and geo-referencing herbarium specimens

Databasing and geo-referencing herbarium specimens

A complete species list for all the territories forms some of the key information for global conservation targets such as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The UKOTs are now in an ideal position to be able to contribute to the achievement of target 1 of the GSPC - an online flora of all known plants.

What next?

With this baseline information we can now move our conservation work to the next level. We have set ourselves the ambitious target of finding out how threatened the UKOTs species are in the wild. Based on the information gathered from the plant specimens and looking at more data held in other Herbaria around the world, as well as our own experience in the field, we are aiming to assess all the UKOTs species following the red list categories and criteria of the  International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). We are going to use exciting new tools such as GeoCAT, developed at Kew’s GIS unit  to assign a Red List category. We will then use this to prioritise conservation action, making sure the most vulnerable species are protected for the future!

The UKOTs Online Herbarium was funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), jointly managed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

- Sara -


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Comments

22 February 2013
Comment: 
It is so encouraging to see this work being done,being a Falkland farmer who has developed a grazing system that compliments the return of natural plant species,plus doing a lot of work with Falklands Conservation in the restoration of Tussac Grass to coastal area's on my own Farm and Cape Dolphin farm that I manage. This project will enable us to use local seed mixes to slow down and in the long-term cover vast eroded area's. I have a great passion for our beautiful pristine enviorment,and anything that can help to return it to its original beauty and productiveness for the long-term sustanability of Falklands Farming and natural habitat of plant species and wildlife, rather than tearing it up and introducing species of high maintainance and productivity and short term sustainability. Great work undertaken by a great team. Ben Berntsen.