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Mapping Biodiversity
Jamais Cascio, 13 May 05

Nature conservation is an information-intense process. After all, you need to know what you're saving in order to tell whether or not you're successful. But tools for measuring biodiversity haven't always kept up with conservation needs. In the new issue of Journal of Biogeography, however, botanists from the Bonn University have produced the most detailed global atlas of plant biodiversity yet created.

A central innovation here is the breakdown of data by vegetation zone. Tropical rainforests are, unsurprisingly, shown to be among the most species-rich areas on earth. Indeed, Borneo's lowland rainforest is the most diverse of all, with around 10,000 plant species. By comparison, the whole of the Federal Republic of Germany contains some 2,700 different native plants. [...] An important "spin-off" from the project is a map showing how thoroughly the plant world has been studied in different regions. Among the "white patches" on the map, showing areas for which floristic knowledge is very poor, we find the southern Amazon basin and North Colombia, which are two of the world's most biodiverse areas.

The atlas will have immediate applicability to conservation work.

The botanists, in their summary of the paper (scroll to "Plant Diversity of the WWF Ecoregions"), argue for three key goals emerging from the work:

(1) that current global plant conservation strategies be reviewed to check if they cover the most outstanding examples of regions from each of the worldÂ’s major biomes, even if these examples are species poor compared with other biomes;

(2) that flooded grasslands and flooded savannas should become a global priority in collecting and compiling richness data for vascular plants; and

(3) that future studies which rely upon species–area calculations do not use a uniform parameter value but instead use values derived separately for subregions.

You can reach a larger version of the three maps shown at right by clicking the image. A very large version (4000x2136) of the main biodiversity atlas can be found here.

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