Research News

AIR Scientists Contribute to Report on State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020

Oct 21, 2020

The fourth report on the State of the World’s series released on September 29, 2020 by the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew, takes a deep dive into the state of the world’s plant and fungal kingdoms globally. The report is a result of huge international collaboration bringing together 210 scientists from 42 countries.

Scientists from the National Engineering Research Center for Geomatics (NCG) with the Aerospace Information Research Institute (AIR) took part in the work of medicine chapter. Focusing on the 157 most endangered medicinal plants, scientists analyzed the distribution patterns of these plants in China.

NCG has long been engaged in the research on biodiversity theory and practice with the technologies of RS and GIS. Their study aims to discover the features of large scale species distributions and therefore to provide valuable information for biodiversity conservation and economic plant monitoring, which also contribute to relevant policy making and national park designing and planning.

China is a large market for traditional medicines which makes a lot of plants critically endangered. Chinese government issued some regulations and laws to prevent the overexploitation, and some conservation actions were adopted for some specific species, for example, nature reserve planning, cultivation, collection in seed banks, and ex-situ protection in botanic gardens.

Dr Melanie-Jayne Howes, lead author of the medicine chapter, says: “scientific advances are providing opportunities for more sustainable ways to reveal new medicines from nature, to harmonise the therapeutic use of biodiversity with its proactive conservation through nature-based solutions. These strategies provide hope to safeguard supplies of valuable medicines in the future, while demonstrating the value of plants and fungi as an additional incentive for conserving biodiversity.”

Kew’s 2016 State of the World’s Plants report estimated 1 in 5 plants were at risk but new analyses this year show that extinction risk may be much higher than previously thought, with 39.4% plants estimated to be threatened with extinction.

Dr Eimear Nic Lughadha, Conservation Scientist at RBG Kew and lead author of the extinction chapter, says: “we need to have a rough idea of the conservation status of every species – and we now have ways to achieve that with AI approaches that are up to 90% accurate. The techniques are good enough to say, ‘this area has a lot of species that haven’t been assessed but are almost certainly threatened’. And knowing that will enable us to identify the most important areas to conserve in the immediate future.”