Hotspots of plant diversity

Two men in a forest walking down a road

Canisius Kayombo and Neil Brummitt in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania, image by Ana Claudia Araujo 

Expeditions to areas of high plant diversity enable us to make sure our IUCN Red List species assessments are accurate.

Validating plant diversity hotspots

Our IUCN Red List assessments are based on historical specimen records, published information and what we can see from recent satellite images. It is important that we are able to visit regions to verify that this is correct.

We have undertaken ground-truthing expeditions to plant diversity hotspots in Cameroon, Kenya, Malaŵi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, and also in Brazil and Costa Rica, working closely together with scientific counterparts in these countries.

How do we target where to visit?

We use a range of species distribution modelling techniques to predict the occurrence of species we have assessed. These techniques are based on the values of climatic variables found at known localities where these species have been collected in the past (which we know from the specimen records deposited in institutions such as the Natural History Museum), and the likelihood of those species also being found in other areas where the values of those climatic variables are similar. 

We model the occurrence of individual species and then overlay predicted occurrences of multiple species to reveal areas where their distributions overlap and they might be found together. As most IUCN Red List assessments for plants are based initially on an assessment of the species range, and species with smaller ranges are more likely to be threatened, these regions are candidate targets for ground-truthing expeditions where several threatened species are likely to be found. 

We then investigate each of these areas and, together with local counterparts, plan ground-truthing expeditions to search for these species in the field and better determine the exact conservation status and threats to their survival.


Plants Under Pressure

Find out about the Plants Under Pressure programme monitoring the state of the plant world.

Monitoring species

On an expedition, we document the threats to species, count numbers of mature individual plants in the population and make targeted collections to record of species in a time and place.

What's involved in an expedition?

When we are on the ground, we spend a lot of time obtaining the required permissions to visit each area, and a lot of time travelling between small patches of remnant natural vegetation to locate each of the species we are searching for. 

Every expedition relies heavily on the goodwill of and relations with local counterparts and in-country botanists, who possess detailed knowledge of the local flora, customs and traditions and without whom much of our work would be impossible, and who in return receive training from us in conservation techniques.

Although specific conditions differ between different regions, the overwhelming threat to the survival of plant diversity around the world is the continual and ongoing conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land, either arable or livestock. 



Syfert, M.M., N.A. Brummitt, D.A. Coomes, N. Bystriakova & M.J. Smith, 2018. Inferring diversity patterns along an elevation gradient from stacked SDMs: a case study on Mesoamerican ferns. Global Ecology and Conservation e00433. doi: 10.1016/j.gecco.2018.e00433

Brummitt, N.A., E. Aletrari, M. Syfert & M. Mulligan, 2016. Where are threatened ferns found? Global conservation priorities for pteridophytes. Journal of Systematics and Evolution 54(6): 604–616. doi: 10.1111/jse.12224

Syfert, M.M., L. Joppa, M.J. Smith, D.A. Coomes, S.P. Bachman & N.A.Brummitt, 2014. Using species distribution models to inform IUCN Red List assessments. Biological Conservation 177: 174–184

Schmeller, D.S., R. Julliard, P. Bellingham, M. Böhm, N.A. Brummitt, A. Chiarucci, D. Couvet, S. Elmendorf, D.M. Forsyth, J. García Moreno, R.D. Gregory, W.E. Magnusson, L.J. Martin, M.A. McGeoch, J.-B. Mihoub, H.M. Perreira, V. Proença, C.A.M. van Swaay, T. Yahara & J. Belnap, 2015. Towards a global terrestrial species monitoring program. Journal of Nature Conservation 25: 51–57.

Pereira, H.M., V. Proença, J. Belnap, N.A. Brummitt, B. Collen, H. Ding, M. Gonzalez, R.D. Gregory, J. Honrado, R.H.G. Jongman, R. Julliard, L. McRae, M. Opige, P. Rodrigues, J.P. Rodriguez, D.S. Schmeller, C. van Swaay, C. Vieira, 2010. Global biodiversity monitoring: filling the gaps where it counts the most. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 8: 459–460. doi:10.1890/10.WB.23

Schmeller, D.S., C. Arvanitidis, S. Barber-Meyer, M. Böhm, N. Brummitt, M. Chandler, E. Chatzinikolaou, M.J. Costello, H. Ding, J. García-Moreno, M. Gill, P. Haase, M. Jones, R. Julliard, C.S. Martin, N. Pettorelli, C. Peng, U. Schmiedel, J.P. Simaika, C. Waterman, J. Wu H. Xu, & J. Belnap, 2017. Building capacity in biodiversity monitoring. Biodiversity and Conservation doi: 10.1007/s10531-017-1388-7

Mihoub, J.-B., K. Henle, N. Brummitt, L. Brotons, N. Titeux & D.S. Schmeller, 2017. Informing biodiversity change – temporal gaps and baseline data. Scientific Reports 7:41591. doi: 10.1038/srep41591.

Supported by funding from the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.

Supported by funding from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.

Plants Under Pressure projects

Plants Under Pressure

Assessing threats to plants and monitoring the state of the plant world.

Bryophytes (mosses, liverworts and hornworts)

We have assessed 1021 species of bryophytes from around the world using the IUCN Red List Criteria, a ten-fold increase.

Pteridophytes (ferns, lycophytes and their allies)

We have tripled the number of species of pteridophytes assessed using the IUCN Red List Criteria.

Comparing plant diversity indicators

Can we detect small-scale changes to biodiversity?

Simulating plant diversity change

How might plant diversity respond to changing situations in the future?

Essential Biodiversity Variables

How should we study the full extent of change to biodiversity?