Biologists produce global map of plant biodiversity

March 20, 2007
These maps depict the species-richness patterns of plants in 1,032 geographic regions worldwide. Credit: University of California - San Diego

Biologists at the University of California, San Diego and the University of Bonn in Germany have produced a global map of estimated plant species richness. Covering several hundred thousand species, the scientists say their global map is the most extensive map of the distribution of biodiversity on Earth to date.

The map, which accompanies a study published in this week's early online issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights areas of particular concern for conservation. It also, the scientists say, provides much needed assistance in gauging the likely impact of climate change on the services plants provide to humans.

Walter Jetz of UCSD and Holger Kreft of the University of Bonn sought in their study to determine how well the diversity, or the "richness," of plant species could be predicted from environmental conditions alone.

"Plants provide important services to humans—such as ornaments, structure, food and bio-molecules that can be used for the development of drugs or alternative fuels—that increase in value with their richness," says Jetz, an assistant professor of biology at UCSD and the senior author of the paper. "Tropical countries such as Ecuador or Colombia harbor by a factor 10 to 100 higher plant species richness than most parts of the United States or Europe. The question is, Why?"

While explorers to these tropical regions long ago recognized this increased diversity over more temperate regions, the general understanding among ecologists about this striking difference continues to be very limited.

"Given that we are far off from knowing the individual distributions of the world's 300,000 odd plant species," says Jetz. "Holger Kreft and I investigated how well the richness of plants can be predicted from environmental conditions alone."

Combining field-survey based species counts from over a thousand regions worldwide with high-resolution environmental data, the scientists were able to accurately capture the factors that promote high species richness of plants.

"This allowed us to estimate the richness of yet unsurveyed parts of the world," says Jetz. "The global map of estimated plant species richness highlights areas of particular concern for conservation and provides much needed assistance in gauging the likely impact of climate change on the services plants provide to humans. It may also help to pinpoint areas that deserve further attention for the discovery of plants or drugs yet unknown to humanity."

"Climate change may drive to extinction plants that hold important cures before we find them," says Kreft, a biologist at the Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants at the University of Bonn. "Ecological research like ours that captures complex diversity - environment relationships on a global scale may assist in a small, but important way so that such a fatal potential failure can be averted."

Source: University of California - San Diego

Explore further: New study verifies more paths to survival for endangered winter-run Chinook salmon

Related Stories

A rapid transition of the world's energy systems

December 4, 2017

The world is changing but not quite fast enough. The warming of the Earth, caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions, has raised enough concern among the political leaders of the world for them to finally take action. The ...

First comprehensive inventory of Neotropical snakes

November 27, 2017

An international team made up of scientists from Brazil, Australia, the U.S., Ecuador, Germany and Sweden has published the results of an extensive database of snakes of the American tropics. This database is made up of museum ...

Recommended for you

Faster, more accurate cancer detection using nanoparticles

December 12, 2017

Using light-emitting nanoparticles, Rutgers University-New Brunswick scientists have invented a highly effective method to detect tiny tumors and track their spread, potentially leading to earlier cancer detection and more ...

0 comments

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.