September 21, 2010

Number Of Known Plant Species Reduced By 600,000

Experts in Britain and the United States are working to create an accurate record of the world's known plant species, and have so far reduced the global inventory by some 600,000 species.

Many of the previously recorded species were duplicates, said the researchers, who expect the final number of species appearing on the official "ËœPlant List' to be closer to 400,000.

The final list, due later this year, will not include ferns or algae, which account for about 10,000 and 30,000 species, respectively.

"The Plant List will be a landmark resource, the importance of which lies in the need for accurate identification and reliable names in all communications about plant life and its uses," a representative from Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew told BBC. Kew is collaborating with U.S.-based Missouri Botanical Gardens to complete the revised list.

"The creation of The Plant List is the most significant collaboration ever between Missouri Botanical Garden and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and a historic accomplishment," Peter Raven, President of Missouri Botanical Garden, said in a statement on Kew's website.

"We now have The Plant List and are tremendously excited about the difference it will make to botanical science and especially to plant conservation."

The project, which aims to facilitate plant conservation worldwide, involves obtaining records from existing plant databases and creating a single, worldwide inventory free of errors and duplications.

"Without accurate names - authoritatively determined - understanding and communication about global plant life would descend into inefficient chaos," said Kew Gardens director Stephen Hooper.

The researchers are well aware of the potential challenges of the initiative.

"It's been a rollercoaster of a project, and the results will be far from perfect but it will be the most comprehensive list to date," Kew's Eimear Nic Lughadha told BBC.

"It will include almost all scientific names at species level that have been published for plants."

"At least 80% of the names in the list will be clearly flagged either as accepted (the correct name for a known plant species) or as a synonym with a pointer to the correct name," he said.

The CEOs of Kew Gardens and Missouri Botanical Gardens are expected to announce further details about the upcoming delivery of the Plant List during the 4th Global Botanic Gardens. 

The final version of the list is expected be available online in the coming months.

"We have just completed a second full cycle of our new approach and are evaluating the results and refining the process. Our aim is to complete a third cycle by the autumn so as to be in a position to publish a Target 1 product in the last quarter of 2010. It's a really significant information product of direct use to sustainable development and conservation initiatives," said Bob Allkin, Information Technology Project Manager for Kew Gardens.

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