Recording threatened Madagascan plants
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Madagascan plants threat assessment

Harnessing citizen science and mobile technology to document diversity and extinction risk of wild plants in Madagascar.

Project details

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Project Leader: 
Funded By: 
JRS Biodiversity Foundation

Objectives and outputs

Knowledge gaps

Plants are poorly represented on the IUCN Red List, the foremost authority on extinction risk assessment for the Earth’s organisms. As few as ~6% of plants have been assessed, and Kew’s Sampled Red List Index has shown that 21% of plants are likely to be threatened with extinction. Worldwide, there has been little progress in assessing plants, particularly in areas where there is most need, as in Madagascar where there is high biodiversity but also many threats. Madagascan plants are under immense pressure, especially from habitat loss. Conservation interventions are severely hampered by a lack of baseline information on threat status for plants. This gap in knowledge can be attributed to lack of capacity in terms of knowledge in theory and application of the Red List system as well as a lack of resources. Recent developments in bioinformatics, web-mapping, citizen science and mobile technology provide an opportunity to transform this process and significantly increase the rate of new assessments, ultimately providing more effective conservation actions.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew aims to build capacity in Red List assessment theory and application with key partners in Madagascar, through workshops and practical sessions including in-the-field ‘BioBlitzes’ to rapidly record and identify species in the wild and fill some of the gaps in knowledge.

Making an impact

Increasing the number of observations of Madagascan plants will greatly increase knowledge of their distribution and status, and also provide valuable images of plants that can be used for education, communication and media awareness programs to promote the conservation of Madagascan plants. Building knowledge within Madagascar on electronic data capture techniques in the field will ultimately lead to more efficient fieldwork where observation data can complement existing herbarium specimen collecting. With the ability to build customised and automated guides, Malagasy botanists including the Kew Madagascar Conservation Centre (KMCC) team can be faster and more effective in their fieldwork.

Establishing a central hub and knowledge base for Red List assessment at KMCC and with partners, will significantly accelerate the production of Red List assessments for Madagascan plants. Multiple trained experts will enable assessors to share knowledge and experience and independently review each other’s assessments, providing significant support and resource for the IUCN Madagascar Plant Specialist Group, the designated authority for Red List assessment of plants in Madagascar.

Increasing the production of Red List assessments will contribute directly to conservation planning for specific threatened species, where urgent action is needed due to imminent threats, and will also support regional conservation action plans. More significantly, on a global scale, assessments will contribute to Madagascan government commitments for the Convention on Biological Diversity through the Sampled Red List Index Project and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2020 target. Nationally, the ramping-up of Red List assessments for plants will make national conservation planning more representative of overall biodiversity in Madagascar.

Objectives

  • Enhance botanical fieldwork activities and increase the rate of observations of Madagascan flora through the use of smart-phones and citizen-science tools and techniques.
  • Increase capacity of plant scientists and conservation biologists in Madagascar to carry out Red List conservation assessments of plants, utilising the latest automated mapping techniques.
  • Contribute to species level conservation action plans as well as global conservation targets (Aichi 2020 and Global Strategy for Plant Conservation Target) through the Red List assessment of Malagasy plants.

Outputs

  • A comprehensive training package on using the iNaturalist website for posting observations including how to develop and use electronic plant identification guides for plants.
  • iNaturalist Android application with enhanced ‘Guides’ features and production of an iNaturalist ‘Guide’ for plant identification including at least 100 species.
  • A comprehensive Red List assessor training package and completion of a one week Red List training workshop in Madagascar, leading to at least 20 individuals trained and a groundswell of knowledge on Red List assessment methods in Madagascar.
  • A one week iNaturalist training workshop in Madagascar, including a two day BioBlitz field trip to apply the knowledge gained from the training.
  • Red List assessments, and publication on the Red List, of at least 100 species, with the wider aim of generating many more assessments (500 – 1,000) over the next two years

Publications

Gardiner, L.M. & Bachman, S. (2016). The role of citizen science in a global assessment of extinction risk in palms (Arecaceae). Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. DOI: 10.1111/boj.12402.

Brummitt, N.A., Bachman, S.P., Griffiths-Lee, J., Lutz, M., Moat, J.F., Farjon, A., et al. (2015). Green plants in the red: a baseline global assessment for the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0135152. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0135152.  

Bachman, S., Moat, J., Hill, A.W., de la Torre, J. & Scott, B. (2011). Supporting Red List threat assessments with GeoCAT: geospatial conservation assessment tool. Special Issue: e-Infrastructures for data publishing in biodiversity science. ZooKeys 150: 117–126. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.150.2109.

Cable, S. (2011). New directions and challenges for the conservation of the flora of Madagascar. In: The Biology of Island Floras (D Bramwell; J Caujapé-Castells; Eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 522 pp.