Scientists create largest-ever botanical biodiversity data set

December 12, 2019

Over the last 10 years, 35 researchers have compiled 20 million observational records on the Earth’s land plants in order to create the largest-ever botanical biodiversity data set. The information may help future generations prevent loss of biodiversity, the researchers said.

The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Science Advances, revealed that there are approximately 435,000 unique plant species on land.

"We had a good approximation of the total number of land plant species, but we didn't have a handle on how many there really are," said lead author Brian Enquist, an ecologist at the University of Arizona, in a press release.

About 36.5% of all plant species are classified as ‘exceedingly rare’ and have been recorded by humans fewer than five times each, according to the data set. Researchers found that these rare plants are at greater risk from climate change.

This is because rare plant species tend to cluster in areas such as the Northern Andes, South Africa, Madagascar and other regions that will experience higher rates of human activity and climate change in coming years.

Researchers hope this knowledge will help scientists protect these species from a changing climate.

"Shared data resources such those supported by the Division of Biological Infrastructure enable that collaboration and provide baseline data for assessing response to forces of change," said Peter McCartney, a program director in the NSF's Division of Biological Infrastructure.

Scientists create largest-ever botanical biodiversity data set