Inequality in plant diversity knowledge and unrecorded plant extinctions: An example from the grasses of Madagascar - Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew research repository
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Journal article

Inequality in plant diversity knowledge and unrecorded plant extinctions: An example from the grasses of Madagascar

30 June 2020

Abstract

Societal impact statement Plants are essential for all life, providing the infrastructure and energy for our ecosystems. A recent report indicates that more than 500 plant species are already presumed extinct and many more could have been lost without anyone being aware, especially in species‐rich areas with high levels of human impact, and where botanical knowledge is poor. Inequality in the availability and accessibility of biodiversity data, professional expertise, and funding interact to produce chronic differences in knowledge between countries. Here, we illustrate this using an example from Madagascar. Understanding these knowledge inequalities will strengthen our ability to improve the situation for people as well as for plants. Summary In order to understand geographic differences in our knowledge of plant extinction, species occurrence knowledge is compared for the grasses (Poaceae) of Madagascar and the British Isles. Poaceae are a useful model system for exploring extinction because they are globally diverse and present interesting characteristics compared with plants as a whole: grasses have a similar species description curve and percentage assessed as threatened, but they have broader and more continental distribution ranges. Historical and current factors affecting the documentation of the Malagasy and British floras are reviewed with regard to science funding, human capital, accessibility, and existing records. Knowledge of Poaceae is compared in the light of these constraints. Global patterns of grass diversity are examined and future extinction rates for Malagasy grasses are estimated. Multiple factors interact to shape a set of constraints on species distribution knowledge. The flora of Madagascar has been described largely by foreigners, science funding is external, and Malagasy botanists face difficult challenges. Spatial data for Madagascar are more limited and less even. We demonstrate that unrecorded extinctions are more likely among Malagasy than British and Irish grasses: they were described later, have smaller ranges, and are more threatened. It is possible that extinction rates of Malagasy grasses will increase tenfold in the next century. Differences in our knowledge of the Malagasy and British floras are long‐standing, deep, and perpetuated by numerous modern‐day factors. We urge researchers to understand and acknowledge these differences, and we provide recommendations for future work.

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