Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) Plants

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 Wollemi Pine International

When considering which species most deserve conservation efforts, species which are evolutionarily distinct and have few close relatives represent a greater portion genetic diversity than do closely related species. So, as well as ranking priority species by their conservation status, their degree of relationship relative to each other can also be taken into account. This is being done in the EDGE of Existence project, which stands for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered, and the relative Evolutionary Distinctiveness of each species is combined with a weighting for its conservation status, to prioritise by both Evolutionary Distinctiveness and Global Endangerment. 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 the EDGE of Existence website. 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.

EDGE Plants is an extension of the Sampled Red List Index for Plants and the EDGE approach will also be applied to other groups of plant which are being assessed as part of the Sampled Red List Index project. 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 Team

Project Leader: Brummitt, Neil

Directorate

Neil Brummitt

Jodrell Laboratory

Elisabeth Baloch, Felix Forest 

Project Partners and Collaborators

UK

Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London

Funders

UK

Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust