Conservation of Plants


About 23% of all known species on Earth are plants. Plants and their communities provide essential ecosystem services for the benefit of humans and the functioning of most terrestrial ecosystems depends on plants. As such plants are an indispensable part of life on Earth. At present, plants face many threats with current extinction rates being estimated to be 100–1000 times higher than those of the pre‐human era. An effective conservation of plants is therefore urgently needed to keep our planet livable.

Keywords: biodiversity; ecosystem services; plant threats; hotspots; offensive conservation

Figure 1.

(a) Numbers of described and evaluated species by major groups of plants with figures above bars referring to numbers of threatened species as % of species evaluated/described *; (b) numbers of threatened species (i.e. critically endangered+endangered+vulnerable) and changes therein by major groups of plants. * Apart from the gymnosperms (i.e. a group almost completely evaluated), the percentages above the ‘species evaluated’ bars are overestimates of the percentage of threatened species due to biases in the assessment process towards assessing species that are thought to be threatened or towards species for which data are readily available. The real value for the percentage of threatened species lies somewhere in the range indicated by the two percentages. ** As the number of evaluated species also varied over 1998–2006, great care should be taken when comparing these figures between assessment periods. Using data calculated from Anonymous (). The 2006 IUCN list of threatened species. The IUCN species survival commission.

Figure 2.

Ecosystems services refer to the benefits people obtain from ecosystems (adapted from WRI, ). Ultimately these are offered by plant species diversity of which ecosystems do consist. Services are greatly affected by humans and their activities, the scale of which ranges from the local to, more and more even the global scale. Supporting services are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services; this is clearly reflected in their central position. Provisioning services are products obtained from ecosystems and their constituents. Regulating services are obtained from regulation of ecosystem processes. Cultural services collect all nonmaterial benefits obtained from ecosystems.

Figure 3.

Examples of species that may function as (a) keystone species of African Savannahs, the African baobab (Adansonia digitata) (photograph: R. Aerts) (Used by kind permission of Raf Aerts); (b) an umbrella species of the Eureka Active Desert Dunes (California), Evening primrose (Oenothera californica) (photograph: T. Schweich) (Used by kind permission of Tom Schweich); (c) a flagship species of many European National Parks, reserves and/or organizations, Lady's slipper orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) (photograph: R. Brys) and (d) an indicator species of European ancient deciduous forests; Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non‐scripta) (photograph: R. Brys).



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Further Reading

Aguilar R, Ashworth L, Galetto L and Aizen MA (2006) Plant reproductive susceptibility to habitat fragmentation: review and synthesis through a meta‐analysis. Ecology Letters 9: 968–980.

Chapin FS, Zavaleta ES, Eviner VT et al. (2000) Consequences of changing biodiversity. Nature 405: 234–242.

Hermy M, Honnay O, Firbank L, Grashof‐Bokdam C and Lawesson J (1999) Ecological comparison between ancient forest plant species of Europe and the implications for forest conservation. Biological Conservation 91: 9–22.

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Kreft H and Jetz W (2007) Global patterns and determinants of vascular plant diversity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 104: 5925–5930.

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Nunney L and Campbell KA (1993) Assessing minimum viable population size: demography meets population genetics. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 8: 234–239.

Tilman D (1999) The ecological consequences of changes in biodiversity: a search for general principles. Ecology 80: 1455–1474.

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Hermy, Martin, Endels, Patrick, Jacquemyn, Hans, and Brys, Rein(Sep 2007) Conservation of Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003353]