The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened species (IUCN Red List) has been updated to give a total of 96,951 species assessed including 27,514 plant species. Around 26% of these species are threatened with extinction.
The IUCN Red List is an assessment of the conservation status of plants, animals and fungi across the globe. And Kew’s Plant Assessment Unit is a dedicated team of scientists and volunteers that provide support for the assessments of plants at Kew. Kew has submitted 988 assessments to the IUCN Red List so far in 2018.
New plant species assessed
The Plant Assessment Unit have been focusing on Tropical Important Plant Areas (TIPAs). TIPAs are areas of high biodiversity in the tropics but are threatened with extinction due to the destruction of their natural habitat.
One such area is the Ribaue massif, a mountain range located in northern Mozambique home to more than 330 native plant species. Memecylon nubigenum is an understorey tree found in only three mountain sites in southern Malawi and northern Mozambique. At all three sites the forest habitat is severely threatened and a large proportion of the population have already been lost due to deforestation caused by the clearing of land for agriculture, logging, fire and the spread of invasive plant species. Therefore, this species was assessed as Endangered (EN).
Kew has recently submitted assessments of 12 wild relatives of the cultivated carrot for the next IUCN Red List update. One example is Daucus mirabilis which is endemic to Libya. There are only three known localities for this species with very few plants at each. The total number of individual plants is thought to be less than 1,000 and it was therefore assessed as Vulnerable (VU).
A rare orchid species (Bulbophyllum cimicinum) found in New Guinea is Endangered. This epiphytic orchid is being threatened by the destruction of its habitat due to logging, agriculture and fire.
Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) – or more widely known as the ‘Corpse Flower’ for its infamous stench – has been assessed for the first time as Endangered. Fewer than 1,000 individuals remain in the wild due to the destruction of its forest habitat by logging on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Though not assessed by Kew, this plant remains an important part of our living collection and attracts many visitors when it flowers.
Dr Serene Hargreaves, Coordinator of the Plant Assessment Unit at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew says: “As a Red List Partner, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has been contributing assessments to the Red List for many years. Having a dedicated Plant Assessment Unit for the past two years has enabled us to increase the rate at which we are Red Listing plant species, especially from the tropics, and is now averaging over 1,000 submissions per year. This work is vitally important to ensuring that the Red List is representative of life on earth. Only by understanding the threats to which species are exposed can we plan effective action to address them.”
The IUCN is working in partnership with Toyota to deliver 28,000 new assessments by 2020. Assessing the world’s species for their likelihood of extinction provides vital information to guide effective conservation strategies.
Toyota Motor Corporation