Borneo - the most species-rich area in the world!

May 12, 2005

Scientists map the world for nature conservation
For years, experts have been calling for an improved database that would enable them to develop more effective global nature conservation strategies. Botanists at the University of Bonn have now taken a major step in this direction with the publication, in the Journal of Biogeography, of a world map of plant biodiversity.

The atlas is arranged in 867 zones, known as ecoregions. "This makes the data on the world's plant diversity accessible in accordance with a common geographical standard," explains Gerold Kier, head of the project at Bonn University's Nees Institute for Plant Biodiversity. This work, says Kier, represents a significant advance because the results are needed both for nature conservation planners and those engaged in basic research.

A central innovation here is the breakdown of data by vegetation zone. Tropical rainforests are, unsurprisingly, shown to be among the most species-rich areas on earth. Indeed, Borneo's lowland rainforest is the most diverse of all, with around 10,000 plant species. By comparison, the whole of the Federal Republic of Germany contains some 2,700 different native plants. "However, we have found out for the first time where, within each of the different vegetation zones, plant biodiversity is highest," says Professor Wilhelm Barthlott, founder of the working group and Director of the Nees Institute. It has emerged, for example, that the Sundarbans region (which spreads across Bangladesh and India), the world's most species-rich mangrove area, has not so far been included on many nature conservation priority lists.

Image: Map a) Vascular plant species per ecoregion. Map b) Ecoregions highest in species richness in each biome within each biogeographical realm. Realms: AA, Australasia; AN, Antarctic; AT, Afrotropics; IM, IndoMalay; NA, Nearctic; NT, Neotropics; OC, Oceania; PA, Palearctic. Biomes: 1 - tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests; 2 - tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests; 3 - tropical and subtropical coniferous forests; 4 - temperate broadleaf and mixed forests; 5 - temperate conifer forests; 6 - boreal forests/taiga; 7 - tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannas and shrublands; 8 - temperate grasslands, savannas and shrublands; 9 - flooded grasslands and savannas; 10 - montane grasslands and shrublands; 11 - tundra; 12 - mediterranean forests, woodlands and scrub; 13 - deserts and xeric shrublands; 14 - mangroves. Map c) Suitability and quality of underlying plant data at the scale of ecoregions

An important "spin-off" from the project is a map showing how thoroughly the plant world has been studied in different regions. Among the "white patches" on the map, showing areas for which floristic knowledge is very poor, we find the southern Amazon basin and North Colombia, which are two of the world's most biodiverse areas. "There is also little known about the biodiversity that exists in large parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the north of China and, surprisingly, even Japan," adds Kier. Of all the different types of vegetation zone, the flooded savannas and grasslands are the least explored by botanists. Greater efforts are needed in future to discover more about the plant life they contain. The project was conducted as a component of the large-scale BIOLOG-BIOTA programme, funded by German's Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and run with the cooperation of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Explore further: Tree planting can harm ecosystems

Related Stories

Tree planting can harm ecosystems

September 9, 2015

The world's grassy biomes are key contributors to biodiversity and ecosystem services, and are under immense pressure from conversion to agriculture and tree planting, report Joseph W. Veldman, of Iowa State University, and ...

Scientists call for preservation of disappearing grasslands

June 26, 2014

( —Before widespread urbanization and poor agricultural practices, grasslands covered North America. Today, many of the four major types of grasslands have sustained extensive damage, and some are in danger of ...

Scientists map speed of climate change

December 23, 2009

New study finds that the average ecosystem will need to shift about a quarter mile per year to keep pace with global climate change.

New maps show the way for rangeland management

July 30, 2013

A new tool for guiding decisions about rangeland restoration is now available, thanks to mapping innovations developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Recommended for you

Study finds 'rudimentary' empathy in macaques

December 1, 2015

(—A pair of researchers with Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Université Lyon, in France has conducted a study that has shown that macaques have at least some degree of empathy towards their fellow ...

Scientists overcome key CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing hurdle

December 1, 2015

Researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT have engineered changes to the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing system that significantly cut down on "off-target" ...

Quantum dots used to convert infrared light to visible light

December 1, 2015

(—A team of researchers at MIT has succeeded in creating a double film coating that is able to convert infrared light at modest intensities into visible light. In their paper published in the journal Nature Photonics, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.