22 areas in Guinea are declared the first official ‘tropical important areas’ in Africa, helping protect 60% of threatened plants there

Following three years of research, European and Guinean scientists, NGOs and staff of the Guinean Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests, have evidenced 22 Tropical Important Plant Areas in Guinea. These are the first Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs or ZTIPs in French) that have been identified in Africa.

Release date: 20 March 2019

A mountain in Guinea which supports 8 globally unique plant species
Kounounkan, one of 22 TIPAs in Guinea, is a sandstone table mountain with intact submontane forest grading into lowland evergreen forest below the sandstone cliffs, supporting eight globally unique plant species. Credit Xander van der Burgt, RBG Kew

Thanks to this designation, the 22 TIPAs, which cover 3.5% of Guinea’s surface area and include more than 60% of the 273 threatened species, will now stand a far greater chance of protection. 

Important Plant Areas are recognised as Target 5 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) to address the world’s Biodiversity and Environment Crisis under the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

“This official status is vital in Guinea. Habitat loss has been devastating with calculations that 96% of the country’s original forest has already been cleared, and that which remains is under severe pressure.  It looks like as many as 35 species have gone extinct in Guinea, from trees to minute herbs, daisies, peas and clematis. ...all due to human pressures. 25 of these are globally unique to Guinea. So these are likely global extinctions.” says Dr Martin Cheek, Senior Research Leader at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

“It was only as we analysed our data that the total number of "missing" threatened species in Guinea became clear. We will find the means to intensify our search for these missing species, and we hope to find at least one or two, but the majority are very likely extinct, due to habitat degradation and clearance by humans,” Dr Cheek adds.

Most of these 35 species were confined to, and may now be perpetually lost from, the Fouta Djallon region, where human activity has modified the original habitat extensively and intensively. These species can now only be found as dried herbarium specimens preserved in the Herbarium of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris (Pictured below a specimen of a potentially extinct species, Echinops guineensis, the Guinean Thistle).

The area with the highest number of threatened species (58) is the Guinean Mount Nimba Strict Nature Reserve, already a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Kounounkan Forest Reserve, which is currently not a protected area, is marked with the greatest priority as it has the highest number of globally unique species (7) of all the new TIPAs in Guinea.

In Maritime Guinea, the remaining small forest patches, which contain endangered plant species unique to the country, are being cleared rapidly. In March 2019 at the Mount Gbalan Classified Forest, researchers found that one forest patch had reduced by 70% in the last two years due to planking of trees, charcoal manufacture from remaining trees, and clearance for agriculture. Open cast mining, development projects, and man-made fires are other key threats to TIPAs in Guinea.

273 plant species were found to be threatened in Guinea as part of the research, an increase of over 200 species on previous knowledge. All of Guinea’s indigenous plant species were screened for assessment of their Red List status using the IUCN global standard. Over the course of the project, the numbers of plant species recorded in Guinea rose from less than 3000 known in 2009, to over 4000, due to surveys in relatively unexplored areas such as Guinée Forestière. 20 new species to science were also discovered, some with potential uses in medicine. All of these new species are threatened with extinction, several being from single locations which are not protected and are under threat from human activities.

A new book, The Threatened Habitats and Tropical Important Plant Areas of Guinea, will be presented at the final Darwin workshop at Gamal Abdel Nasser University, Conakry 21-22 March 2019.

Tree-felling in the Gbalan Forest reserve, Guinea
Ongoing tree-felling for planks, charcoal (mound in centre) and agricultural land in a rare surviving patch of lowland evergreen forest in Gbalan Forest reserve, Coyah, Guinea, reduced by 70% in two years. March 2019. Photo Martin Cheek, RBG, Kew.

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For more information contact pr@kew.org and + 44 208 3312 56056

Funding – the programme was funded mainly by the UK Government through the Darwin Initiative programme, with additional support from The Goodman Ellis Family Foundation, BID (GBIF), support in kind from SIMFER, and the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Foundation.

Partners - the partners of the Darwin Initiative project are:  Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, Herbier National de Guinea (HNG), l’Université Gamal Abdel Nasser de Conakry (UGAN), Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests (MEEF) through the CBD Focal Point, Guinée Ecologie and Plantlife International.

Future - A new phase of the project, funded by The Ellis Family Goodman Foundation, will begin in April 2019. This follow up phase will review whether the 22 TIPAs are sufficient, will renew efforts to find the 35 possibly extinct Guinean species, and will focus on research of socio-economic species in TIPAs, seeking to develop products from the many underutilised indigenous Guinean plant species to improve livelihoods of communities in the buffer zones of TIPAs so as to incentivise communities to protect and not to clear natural habitat that contains threatened species.

About Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.1 million visits every year. Kew was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew's Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.