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John Jackson is Science Policy Co-ordinator at the Natural History Museum.

 

The Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 (GBO3) published in May 2010 says that, ’The target agreed by the world’s Governments in 2002, “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”, has not been met.’

 

Biodiversity loss is not slowing - Jonathan Ballie’s post refers to the Buchart et al. paper in Science that reaches that conclusion with scientific data. The CBD secretary’s note for Nagoya states that not a single country has reported that it has met the 2010 target “to achieve a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010”. For the UK, the 2010 JNCC Biodiversity Indicators in Your Pocket shows that things look good if you are a bat, but less good news for birds and plants.

 

GBO3 is a key document in looking forward from Nagoya and is well worth reading - straightforward and not too technical. It points to some progress on controlling pollution and managing protected areas, but otherwise the global picture looks grim: species diversity; genetic diversity; sustainable use and consumption; habitat loss; invasive species; climate change; access and benefit sharing; policy development; and other areas - for all of these the record is not good.

 

So a question for debate: 2020 will be the next set of targets. What is going to make this approach more of a success than 2010? What needs to change?

 

Twenty 2020 targets have been drafted for Nagoya, part of a 195-page document, and propose for agreement that by 2020 (a somewhat arbitrary selection):

  • Target 1: all people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably.
  • Target 5: the rate of loss and degradation, and fragmentation, of natural habitats is [at least halved][brought close to zero].
  • Target 10: to have minimized the multiple pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
  • Target 12: the extinction and decline of known threatened species has been prevented and improvement in the conservation status [for at least 10% of them] has been achieved.
  • Target 14: ecosystems that provide essential services and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, are safeguarded and/or restored and equitable access to ecosystem services is ensured for all, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities and the poor and vulnerable.
  • Target 19: knowledge, the science base and technologies relating to biodiversity, its values, functioning, status and trends, and the consequences of its loss, are improved, widely shared and transferred, and applied.

 

Ambitious? Extremely. Necessary? Absolutely. Practical? That is up to us.  What are we going to do now that will enable us all to congratulate ourselves on how well we have done since 2010?

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Some of the spectacular scenery that Sandy Knapp has photographed on her fieldtrip to China

 

Sandy Knapp continues to search for aubergines (Solanum melongena) and other interesting Solanum species in China, and I've been reading her blog with interest.

 

Aubergine varieties seem to have evaded discovery so far - a farmer in one of the locations she visited said his crop had failed due to the cold weather, but there are apparently lots of other interesting crops and plant life to be seen, and in some cases eaten.

 

On Monday Sandy was served the leaves of the black nightshade, Solanum nigrum, which is a common weed in Britain and thought to be poisonous! She says it was obviously not very, at least in China. A braver approach than I'd have, and I was relieved to read from her blog posts later in the week that she didn't seem to be any the worse for it.

 

Sandy's not just exploring fields, brush and spectacular limestone mountains: she found another species, Solanum torvum, growing in a rubbish dump in the north of China. Who said fieldwork isn't glamorous!

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It's worth it though. Yesterday she wrote that they'd found their first exciting Solanum species - Solanum violaceum (shown right). Although it's a common species, she wants to compare it carefully throughout its range to other species that may or may not be the same.

 

Not all of her observations have been positive. She has seen first-hand evidence of habitat destruction in the beautiful and biologically interesting limestone hills near Gansu. She says mining for stone and gravel will have destroyed many of them by next year, along with the native flora that grows there.

 

I look forward to finding out more about Sandy's travels, including whether she finds the elusive aubergine and whether she's served up any other risky dishes.

 

Read Sandy's blog, Investigating aubergines in China.

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Following Lucy’s blog post about the discovery of new Solanum species in Kenya by Drs Maria Vorontsova and Dr Maarten Christenhusz earlier this year, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with Maria to find out more about why they made the visit and the implications of their findings.

 

Maria tells me that her interest was first piqued when she was studying herbarium specimens of African Solanum in the Kew Gardens herbarium collection. She says she saw some strange specimens that didn’t have species names and didn’t look like any other species. Intrigued, she recorded locality information from the labels to find out where they were from. She then travelled to Kenya to see if the plants were still there and to find out if they really were new species like she suspected.

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  Maarten and Maria working in the field

 

Visiting old collection localities, Maria and Maarten found that in many places there was no more native vegetation because the goats ate everything, and in other places because there was now a maize plantation there instead.

 

Nonetheless, their four weeks spent hunting for Solanum paid off as they identified three new species - Solanum polhillii (which is named after the brilliant botanist Roger Polhill), Solanum phoxocarpum (which means ‘pointy fruited’) and Solanum malindiense (which means that the species comes from Malindi). Maria and Maarten are now writing a journal article describing the new species.

 

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Solanum malindiense

 

They saw severe habitat degradation for two of the species and the trip has highlighted how rare species are disappearing before we even know they are out there.

 

A lot more work is needed, says Maria. In her words: ‘There are so many strange and beautiful tropical plants out there, and we don’t even know how many species we have.’

 

She added that as long as we don’t know how many and what species there are, we can’t know how to protect them or what useful resources they might provide.

 

It’s a big task, but scientists from the Botany Department are doing what they can to rectify this situation. The Museum is part of Solanaceae Source, a worldwide collaboration to study the genus Solanum. Most of the 1500 known species in this large genus grow in South and Central America, while Tanzania and Kenya have the largest diversity of spiny Solanums in Africa.

 

So what’s next? As well as preparing the journal article, Maria is now working towards a book on all spiny Solanum in Africa and Madagascar and is planning to go to Tanzania and Madagascar in 2010. Let’s hope we can catch up with her again then.

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Museum botanists Drs Maria Vorontsova and Maarten Christenhusz working in Kenya have discovered three new species of Solanum.

 

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Maria and helpers collecting Solanum in the Kenyan bush.