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Red Listing the unique plants of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs)

Sara Barrios
26 April 2013

Many of the unique plant species growing in the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are under threat. Kew’s Herbarium specimens provide important clues to help us identify those that are in greatest danger.

Caribbean scrubland

Cacti and other distinctive plants grow in the species-rich, dry scrubland of several Caribbean UKOTs  (Image: Martin Hamilton)

In October 2011, the UKOTs team at RBG Kew embarked on a project to determine the conservation status of UKOTs' plant species. Put simply, we want to be able to find out which of the plants that occur in the UKOTs are the most threatened and, therefore, closer to extinction. It is an ambitious project but essential to help us and our colleagues from these territories to prioritise conservation action. Also, these assessments will be submitted to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which covers plants, animals and fungi. We want to raise awareness of the uniqueness of UKOTs plant species and that, unless we actively protect them, we might lose them in the near future!

How can we decide if a species is threatened or not?

We use the data we’ve previously put together on the UKOTs Online Herbarium for plants native to the UKOTs. This includes important information such as geographical distribution of species. We start by digitising specimens held at Kew of those plants collected from neighbouring islands. Andrew Budden described this work in his post "Investigating the plants of the Caribbean... on the outskirts of London!" Then we look for more herbarium specimens held in other botanical institutions, using online databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) and for all information available online, in books and journals. Kew’s Library, Art & Archives is a great resource to have in the same building!  Finally, we put all the information together and decide on a Red List category following the IUCN rules for Red Listing. Sounds an easy task but the entire process can take quite some time!

Exciting tools

As scientists we like to use methods which help us to standardise data analysis and make it more comparable. We are using a tool called GeoCAT (geospatial conservation assessment tool). This web-based tool uses specimen or observation data to calculate the area and extent of occurrence of our species, and to provide a preliminary assessment based on geographic measures used in the Red List criteria. In order to track all the specimens and information used to assign a Red List category, we are helping to develop a new module of BRAHMS (Botanical Research and Herbarium Management System), which we already use to hold the data for the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This module is called the Conservation Assessment Module (CAM) and it will soon be fully functional.

Conservation Assessment Module

Conservation Assessment Module

Collaboration

A task as big as this cannot be achieved alone. Even taking into consideration all information that we hold in Kew’s Herbarium, collaboration with our colleagues from the Overseas Territories is essential.

Red Listing UKOTs plants

Jean Linsky and Alex Roberts, both UKOTs Red Listing Interns, working on conservation assessments with Brian Naqqi Manco

A couple of weeks ago, our colleague from the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), Brian Naqqi Manco, joined us for a week in order to review the assessments that Alex, Jean and myself had prepared. He added more points to the species maps and also pointed out threats that we hadn’t figured out through literature research. It was an intense week but we managed to complete IUCN assessments for 14 plant species native to TCI, some of which we classified as Endangered.

Spermacoce capillaris

For example, we assessed one of the species that we found when we travelled to TCI in 2010. Spermacoce capillaris is a small shrub from the coffee family which is threatened by habitat modification. According to our assessment it is an Endangered species. These assessments are now ready for submission to IUCN. We will continue with our project and keep you updated.

The UKOTs Red List Project is being funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), jointly managed by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

- Sara Bárrios -


 

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