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Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) Plants

Using molecular-based phylogenetic trees and conservation status to identify the most Evolutionary Distinct and Globally Endangered plants. The project focuses initially on gymnosperms.

The highest priority EDGE Gymnosperm species, the Wollemi pine (Wollemia nobilis), was discovered in 1994 in the Wollemi National Park, Australia. © J.Plaza RBG Sydney and by kind permission of

When considering which species most deserve conservation efforts, species which are evolutionarily distinct and have few close relatives represent a greater portion of genetic diversity than do closely related species. So, as well as ranking priority species by their conservation status, one can also take into account their degree of relationship relative to each other. This is being done in the EDGE of Existence project (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) in which the relative evolutionary distinctiveness of each species is combined with a weighting for its conservation status. Quite different results are obtained from prioritising just by evolutionary distinctiveness or by IUCN conservation status.

The first group of plants to be subject to this kind of prioritisation is the gymnosperms, with almost 1,000 species distributed around the world and for which conservation assessments exist already. These EDGE species are often lacking in any conservation action, and as well as the prioritisation analysis, species pages detailing the conservation measures needed for these critical species will be made available on the Kew and EDGE of Existence websites. This is widely used not just by the academic and conservation communities, but also by teachers and school children learning about environmental issues, and on the day of its launch received over 1 million hits. The gymnosperms project is almost completed and should be published and made available online shortly.

This will give an important phylogenetic element to knowledge of global plant conservation priorities, as well as showing the geographical distribution of phylogenetic diversity. Identification of Important plant areas for conservation can then help ensure the survival of threatened plants, threatened habitats and also the most unique species.

Project partners and collaborators

  • Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London (Ben Collen, Carly Waterman)
  • Natural History Museum, London (Neil Brummitt)

Project funders


Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust

Project team

Herbarium, Library, Art & Archives

Steven Bachman

Jodrell Laboratory

Félix Forest, Elizabeth Balloch

Science Teams: