Tropics in crisis: Kew scientists call for preservation of Guinea’s indigenous plants in WWF’s alarming Living Planet Report
Release date: 13 October 2022
- Tropical regions face brunt of biodiversity crisis as wildlife populations nosedive at shocking rates
- WWF’s Living Planet Report (LPR) highlights dangers to cultural and economic wellbeing of west Africa
- 96% of Guinea’s original forest cleared by 1990s and deforestation ongoing today
- Scientists hope report will act as wakeup call for public to secure nature-positive change
In a report published today by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and National Herbarium of Guinea-UGANC highlight initiatives to protect biodiversity and support the wellbeing of local communities in west Africa, including countries such as the Republic of Guinea.
According to the latest and biggest dataset published in the WWF’s Living Planet Report 2022, monitored populations of wildlife – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish – have fallen by 69% since 1970, based on an analysis of almost 32,000 species populations. Further adding to this bleak picture of the planet’s health, RBG Kew’s State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report estimates that 2 in 5 plants globally are threatened with extinction.
WWF, RBG Kew, and partners are now calling on governments, businesses, and the public to take a stand against the ongoing biodiversity crisis. Among the biggest threats to nature today are land-use change, the destruction of habitats, and the over-exploitation of plants and animals. However, scientists warn climate change could become an even greater driver of biodiversity loss in the coming years if global warming is not limited to 1.5C.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, says: “We face the double emergencies of human-induced climate change and biodiversity loss, threatening the well-being of current and future generations. WWF is extremely worried by this new data showing a devastating fall in wildlife populations, in particular, in tropical regions that are home to some of the most biodiverse landscapes in the world.”
The tropics are among the most biodiverse places on the planet, home to an incredible variety of animals, plants, and fungi. Plants, however, are often underrepresented in global conservation efforts, highlighting the need to unlock the data on their diversity and distribution for better-informed conservation policy. Aiding this effort is the Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs) programme, launched at RBG Kew in partnership with Plantlife International, through which Kew scientists and partners are together, country by country, working to designate the areas with irreplaceable plant diversity in terms of threatened species with socio-economic importance, as well as threatened habitats.
Such programmes are crucial not only for the protection of nature, but they can also support the propagation and planting of ‘useful’ indigenous plant species that improve the cultural and economic wellbeing of local communities. In Guinea, for example, the fruits and nuts of many trees have been traditionally harvested from wild forests. Unfortunately, rampant deforestation has cleared 96% of Guinea’s original forest by the 1990s.
Denise Molmou, National Herbarium Guinea and lead author of a section of the LPR, says: “Guinea is a country endowed with significant biological diversity. This diversity is being irrationally exploited and degraded at a considerable rate by human activities. In 2021, 167kHa of tree cover loss was recorded by Global Forest Watch. The main causes of this destruction are bush fires, slash and burn agriculture, charcoal, logging, mining, and urbanisations all underlined by the increased population pressures on the resources. The diversity of the forest plays multiple roles in the socio-economic life of the Guinean population. They occupy a vital place in most aspects of the daily life of the population by providing them with food, fibre, medicine, fuel, shelter, clothing, and even the air we breathe.”
Scientists now warn the demand for edible nuts such as tola (Beilschmiedia mannii), petit kola (Garcinia kola) and the gingerbread plum bansouma (Neocarya macrophylla) is exceeding the available supply. This is a worrying development as these nuts are a vital and much appreciated source of nutrition that could support human health.
Initiatives are now underway in Guinea to introduce these species alongside Critically Endangered trees in the buffer zones of three designated Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs). Scientists believe this approach offers an incentive for local communities to conserve nature, while providing better access to nutrition and the economic benefits from their harvest. Protecting the wellbeing of local communities in Guinea is a vital aspect of RBG Kew’s conservation work as the country is ranked among the lowest in the Human Development Index.
Charlotte Couch, Project Officer: Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs) of Guinea at Kew, says: “Over 60% of Guinea’s population lives in rural areas and relies on natural products for foods and medicines. They are sold in the markets of regional towns and there is a high demand for them. The government and private sector need to promote the planting of these non-timber forest products and other native species in their reforestation programmes to invest in people so that they can improve their livelihoods as custodians of these species.”
Martin Cheek, Senior Research Leader on the Africa team at Kew, adds: “We need to take action on the ground now to support local communities around TIPAs to protect natural habitat using it sustainably, otherwise they have no option but to continue to degrade and clear it.”
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Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, says: “At the COP15 biodiversity conference this December, leaders have an opportunity to reset our broken relationship with the natural world and deliver a healthier, more sustainable future for all with an ambitious nature-positive global biodiversity agreement. In the face of our escalating nature crisis, it’s essential this agreement delivers immediate action on the ground, including through a transformation of the sectors driving nature loss, and financial support to developing countries.”
Dr Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation and Policy at ZSL, says: “The Living Planet Index highlights how we have cut away the very foundation of life and the situation continues to worsen. Half of the global economy and billions of people are directly reliant on nature. Preventing further biodiversity loss and restoring vital ecosystems has to be at the top of global agendas to tackle the mounting climate, environmental and public health crises.”
- The 2022 global Living Planet Index (LPI) shows an average 69% decline in monitored vertebrate wildlife populations. The percentage change in the index reflects the average proportional change in animal population sizes tracked over 48 years - not the number of individual animals lost nor the number of populations lost.
- The Living Planet Index (LPI), featuring almost 32,000 populations of 5,230 species, was provided by ZSL (Zoological Society of London).
- The LPR 2022 is the 14th edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication.
- Please note that successive iterations of the LPI are not directly comparable as they contain different sets of species. It is also important to note that the 1970 baseline holds different significance for the various regions monitored. In Europe and North America, pressures had been impacting species and habitats for many decades prior to 1970 so while the declines in these regions are ostensibly not as steep, it does not mean biodiversity is more intact in these regions. In fact, the report’s Biodiversity Intactness Index shows that Europe is one of the regions that scores lowest for biodiversity intactness. Conversely, tropical regions would have started at a more intact baseline in 1970 but have since experienced more rapid changes to their ecosystems.
- The LPI is an early warning indicator on the health of nature. This year’s edition analyses almost 32,000 species populations - with more than 838 new species and just over 11,000 new populations added since the previous report came out in 2020. It provides the most comprehensive measure of how species are responding to pressures in their environment driven by biodiversity loss and climate change, also allowing us to understand the impact of people on biodiversity.
- The Fifteenth Conference of Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) is scheduled to take place in Montreal, Canada, 7-19 December, under the Presidency of China.
NOTES TO EDITORS
About Kew Science
Kew Science is the driving force behind RBG Kew’s mission to understand and protect plants and fungi, for the well-being of people and the future of all life on Earth. Over 300 Kew scientists work with partners in more than 100 countries worldwide to halt biodiversity loss, uncover secrets of the natural world, and to conserve and restore the extraordinary diversity of plants and fungi. Kew’s Science Strategy 2021–2025 lays out five scientific priorities to aid these goals: research into the protection of biodiversity through Ecosystem Stewardship, understanding the variety and evolution of traits in plants and fungi through Trait Diversity and Function; digitising and sharing tools to analyse Kew’s scientific collections through Digital Revolution; using new technologies to speed up the naming and characterisation of plants through Accelerated Taxonomy; and cultivating new scientific and commercial partnerships in the UK and globally through Enhanced Partnerships. One of Kew’s greatest international collaborations is the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, which has to date stored more than 2.4 billion seeds of over 40,000 wild species of plants across the globe. In 2020, Kew scientists estimated in the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi report that 2 in 5 plants globally are threatened with extinction.
About the WWF
WWF is an independent conservation organization, with over 30 million followers and a global network active in nearly 100 countries. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit panda.org/news for the latest news and media resources; follow us on Twitter @WWF_media
About Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs)
The Tropical Important Plant Areas programme identifies critical sites for preserving the diversity of plant life in the tropics . TIPAs can be used as a tool to identify and promote global conservation priorities, while raising public awareness of plants and the important ecosystem services they provide. Data collected through the programme is accessible online through the TIPAs portal. To date, TIPAs have been identified in Bolivia, British Virgin Islands, Cameroon, Guinea, Indonesian New Guinea, Mozambique and Uganda, as well as a pilot project in Ethiopia.
ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. Our work is realised through our ground-breaking science, our field conservation around the world and engaging millions of people through our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information, visit http://www.zsl.org.