A team of plant conservation experts, working under the auspices of the Species Survival Commission of the World Conservation Union (IUCN),recently announced that it is poised to launch an international program to conserve the species that form the cornerstone of human existence - the world's plants and trees. David Brackett, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, states, "We live in one of the most expensive decades of the most expensive century in history, when measured in terms of the loss of the unique diversity of life on this planet."
IUCN's Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the world's largest network of conservation expertise, comprising some 7,000 volunteer scientists and conservation professionals working to conserve the biological diversity of plant and animal species. SSC's plant network has devoted an enormous amount of time and resources to amass expertise, knowledge, and data on the conservation status of plants around the world. The effort mobilized the international community of experts in this field and has led to consensus among them for the urgent need to launch a collaborative, global plant program.
Last year the SSC announced that over 34,000 species of plants were threatened with extinction, that is some 12.5% of the World's flora. "The situation is dire" says Dr Wendy Strahm, IUCN's Plants Officer. "We must mobilize botanists as well as decision-makers to ensure that the massive loss of plant species and variation that we are losing today is stopped. The International Botanical Congress is an ideal venue to bring top botanists together to work and advise on one of the greatest threats to our future-biodiversity loss".
The issues surrounding the conservation of plants are complex, ranging from conserving "hot spots" (places with high concentrations of species), to the effects of invasive species, to sustainable use of medicinal species or those with socio-economic importance. A unique strength of the SSC network is its ability to develop and nurture strategic alliances with international, national, and local organizations to appropriately address these issues. The SSC network will help to ensure that actions are identified and taken at many different levels - from local to regional to global.
As part of the new initiative, experts within the SSC Plant Program have set out the conditions that must be met to ensure the survival of threatened, endangered, and economically or otherwise important plant species. These include:
+ Sound scientific information must underpin decisions and policies affecting plant diversity;
+ Activities should immediately focus on biological "hot spots", particularly those which are under pressure from human influences;
+ Rigorous criteria for identifying, classifying, and prioritizing sites of high plant diversity must be developed, shared, and used to determine where best to place resources;
+ Information-gathering programs must be created and coordinated in those regions rich in plants with economic or social values;
+ Effects of invasive plants and animals, major sources of species depletion, must be reduced;
+ Sustainable use of plant species must be promoted, taking the needs of resource users into account and working within the spirit and the letter of the Convention on Biological Diversity;
+ "Best practice" manuals, focusing on conservation management in key biodiversity areas, must be developed, and local people (those who actually do conservation) encouraged to practice integrated conservation action;
+ Solutions must be long-term and include international and national level plant conservation training programs, particularly for lesser-resourced nations.
"We've set high goals for ourselves and for our partners," said Dr. Given. "But they are high out of necessity. The fate of plant species, and ultimately the health of the planet, rests in our abilities to achieve these goals. We can do so only if we can build on the concerns and actions of individuals and institutions around the world."
Many of the experts who comprise the SSC plant network were in attendance at the XVI International Botanical Congress where more than 4,000 scientists from 100 countries met to discuss the latest results of research on plants for human survival and improved quality of life. The International Botanical Congress is held only once every six years.