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RBG Kew’s fourth State of the World’s report, released today, takes a deep dive into the state of the world’s plant and fungal kingdoms globally.
The new data, the result of a huge and unprecedented international collaboration bringing together 210 scientists from 42 countries, including those from the Natural History Museum, show how we are currently using plants and fungi, what useful properties we are missing, and what we risk losing.
The Natural History Museum’s Professor Juliet Brodie provided a specialist focus on seaweeds for the report. She describes seaweeds as the ‘Cinderella subject of the sea’ due to their essential role in underwater ecosystems, yet the lack of protection we give them as they are threatened by exploitation and decline impacts our chances of fully understanding them.
The wider report highlights the pressing need to explore the solutions that plants and fungi could provide to address some of the pressures facing people and planet. Plants and fungi are the building blocks of life on planet Earth, they have the potential to solve urgent problems that threaten human life, but these vital resources are being compromised by biodiversity loss.
Speaking about her contribution to the report, Professor Juliet Brodie says, “Seaweed is fundamental to shallow water ecosystems. For example, kelp forests provide habitats for a huge array of marine organisms, they protect our coasts from erosion and help promote species diversity. Yet, like so many species in this new report, we have exposed how little we know about these irreplaceable organisms. As we continue to exploit our coastal ecosystems, seaweeds face a race against time for us to understand and protect them before it’s too late.”
Additional data on Professor Brodie’s findings are also published today in one of a series of scientific research papers made freely available in the leading journal Plants, People, Planet. She continues,
“In recent years, we have made considerable progress in our knowledge of UK seaweeds but are only just beginning to understand the scale of seaweed diversity in other parts of the world. There is a wealth of diversity yet to be discovered before it is too late.”
Professor Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at RBG Kew, says, “The data emerging from this year’s report paint a picture of a world that has turned its back on the potential of plants and fungi to address fundamental global issues such as food security and climate change. Societies have been too dependent on too few species for too long. At a time of rapid biodiversity loss, we are failing to access the treasure chest of incredible diversity on offer and missing a huge opportunity for our generation. As we start the most critical decade our planet has ever faced, we hope this report will give the public, businesses and policymakers the facts they need to demand nature-based solutions that can address the triple threats of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.”
The many leading experts in their field that wrote the report suggest the best course of action now is to ‘fast track’ risk assessments so key areas can be protected, and species can be conserved without delay. To achieve this, AI (artificial intelligence) could help to identify priorities for conservation assessments. This new technology can detect if an area contains multiple species that haven’t been assessed, but are more likely to be threatened, which will help speed up assessments for areas in most urgent need.
The report has also identified the need to accelerate the pace of species ID – It is a race against time to find, identify, name and conserve species before they go extinct. We cannot protect a species if we do not know it exists – this makes finding, describing, and naming species a critical task. The Natural History Museum has been responding to this challenge since 2014 when it initiated the Digital Collections Programme to digitise and release data about the 80 million items in their collection. The ongoing programme aims to make it possible for anyone to access this data – without the need to physically be in the Museum.
The Natural History Museum’s Helen Hardy, who manages the Museum’s Digital Collections says, “Natural history collections hold information we need to tackle fundamental scientific and societal challenges of our time - from conserving the biodiversity on which our wellbeing and our planet's health depend to finding new ways to combat disease and extract mineral resources.
“At present this information is contained within hundreds of millions of specimens, labels and archives across the globe, yet only available to a handful of scientists.
At the Natural History Museum we want to unlock this treasure trove so that everyone, including citizen scientists, researchers and data analysts, can access it.”
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To download a copy of the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi Report, please click here.
The report will be publicly available from 00:01 BST 30 September here.
In conjunction with the publication of the report, Kew will host the first ever State of the World’s symposium focusing on both plants and fungi. Join international scientists, industry representatives and policymakers on 13–15 October 2020 to discuss actions for protecting and sustainably using the world’s plant and fungal biodiversity for the benefit of people and planet. The symposium will take place online, allowing global participation from among a diverse range of skills, experience and ethnic backgrounds. The programme is based around six themed sessions in which invited experts will address a topical question through presentations and a Q&A panel discussion. For more information and to register to attend, please click here.
· 2016: First ever State of the World’s Plants – Regional focus Brazil
· 2017: State of the World’s Plants – Regional focus Madagascar
· 2018: First State of the World’s Fungi – Regional focus China
· Kew did not release a State of the World’s report in 2019
Plants, People, Planet is a multi-disciplinary Open Access journal, owned by the New Phytologist Foundation and published by Wiley. The journal promotes outstanding plant-based research in its broadest sense and celebrates everything new, innovative and exciting in plant-focused research that is relevant to society and people’s daily lives.
The Natural History Museum is both a world-leading science research centre and the most-visited natural history museum in Europe. With a vision of a future in which both people and
the planet thrive, it is uniquely positioned to be a powerful champion for balancing humanity’s needs with those of the natural world.
It is custodian of one of the world’s most important scientific collections comprising over 80 million specimens. The scale of this collection enables researchers from all over the world to document how species have and continue to respond to environmental changes - which is vital in helping predict what might happen in the future and informing future policies and plans to help the planet.
The Museum’s 300 scientists continue to represent one of the largest groups in the world studying and enabling research into every aspect of the natural world. Their science is contributing critical data to help the global fight to save the future of the planet from the major threats of climate change and biodiversity loss through to finding solutions such as the sustainable extraction of natural resources.
The Museum uses its enormous global reach and influence to meet its mission to create advocates for the planet - to inform, inspire and empower everyone to make a difference for nature. We welcome over five million visitors each year; our digital output reaches hundreds of thousands of people in over 200 countries each month and our touring exhibitions have been seen by around 30 million people in the last 10 years.