Red listing plants

Today’s group meeting focused on the IUCN Red List.  The red list has generated many high-profile publications in recent years, but plants have typically been under-represented in the assessment process.  Partly, this has been due to debate around the validity of transferring the assessment approach used for animals to plants.  That sounds like it’s now changing.

We heard about a new initiative focused on assessing the threat status, and informing the conservation, of plants important to people.  These include wild relatives of crops, timber trees, medicinal plants, and palms.  As many of these assessments will also include detailed range maps, it now seems like there a number of interesting analyses that could be done mapping how plants are moving with people and which “traits” pre-dispose species towards better protection.  For example, one could classify different groups of medicinal plants, maybe like in this recent PNAS paper, and test whether threat status differs among groups.  One could imagine that some groups of plants would be better conserved because they’re deemed more “valuable”.  Or, more threatened because of the very fact that they’re valuable.  My old friend Panax quinquefolius is a good example of this!

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