Collections, digitization, nature conservation and global change

Collections, digitization, nature conservation and global change

A decline in botanical collections and collection interests in recent decades is highly problematic. In an era of rapid climate change, botanical and other natural history collections contain more valuable data for understanding long-term changes and supporting conservation. Strengthening the collection, curation and data availability (digitization) is a primary goal of the Botany Department at the SMNK.

Plants are essential organisms. They produce oxygen, maintain soil quality and provide food and habitat for other organisms. They can reduce air pollution, have medicinal properties and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. They are all around us, can be beautiful and are deeply embedded in cultures around the world. But people don't want to study plants, and indeed the multiple roles that plants play in our daily lives are largely underestimated. The lack of interest in botany is a persistent problem and our own experience bears this out.

When we ask students about their interests, we often hear, "Everything but plants!". It was recognized as early as the 1960s that the general public, and indeed the wider scientific community, are often unaware of what modern botany and its major achievements are. Even among plant biologists themselves, the term "botany" has lost favor, largely due to its perceived historical and taxonomic connotations. Plant taxonomy and identification, a skill often associated with botanists, often lacks proper scientific and professional recognition. In parallel with this trend in science, public knowledge of plants and interest in the study of plant science has declined. The possible causes are complex, but factors such as how we perceive our environment, discrepancies between our perceptions of behavior, agency, and individuality in plants and animals, and the separation of agricultural and natural environments all play important roles. This can have dire consequences in the future.

Due to the declining interest in botany as a scientific discipline, even highly skilled biologists are often unable to identify common plants. In addition, plant identification skills suffer from a lack of scientific recognition and botanists are at risk of extinction. Insufficient uptake of botany and plant science degrees can lead to a gradual decline in expertise in areas essential to food security, such as Plant pathology.

Example - Conservation of Medicinal Plants in China

Medicinal plants have always played an important role in the history of human health. However, populations and the sustainable use of medicinal plants have been severely impacted by human activities and climate change. Little is known about the current conservation status and distribution patterns of medicinal plants. In a study in China, based on accurate geographic distribution information of 9756 medicinal plants, we identified diversity hotspots and conservation gaps, assessed the conservation effectiveness of conservation areas, and predicted suitable habitats for medicinal plants in China to provide scientific guidance on their long-term conservation and sustainable use. Based on digital data from plant collections in China, a total of 150 diversity hotspot grid cells were identified, mainly concentrated in central and southern China. These made up only 5% of the entire range, but contained 96% of the country's medicinal plants. The hotspot grid cells included all traditional hotspot areas, but we also discovered three new hotspots, namely Mufu-Lushan Mountains, Tianshan Altai Mountains and Changbai Mountains. The current national and provincial wildlife sanctuaries protect 125 hotspot grid cells that host 94% of all medicinal plants. However, 25 hotspot grid cells distributed in the Tianshan Altai Mountains and Hengduan Mountains are outside the national and provincial nature reserves. An analysis of the projected impacts of climate change revealed that the suitable habitat areas will shift from southern to northern China and that southern China will face a significant loss of suitable habitat areas, while the eastern and western parts of China will have significantly better suitable areas than habitats in the embrace the future. In China, current protection networks have achieved high protection effectiveness in relation to medicinal plants. However, the conservation gaps we have identified should not be neglected, and conservation planning must take into account the projected shifts of some medicinal plant hotspots due to climate change.


Selected Publications

Qin F, Zhang XX, Huang YF, Wu L, Xu WB, Xue TT, Zhang WD, Liu Q, Yu JH, Gao JJ, Bussmann RW, Wang J, Yu SX. (2023):
Geographic distribution conservation effectiveness and gaps for national key protected wild plants in China. Journal of Systematics and Evolution : doi: 10.1111/jse.12941
Haq SM, Li Q, Yaqoob U, Majeed M, Hassan M, Fatima S, Kumar M, Bussmann RW, Ul Moazzam MF, Tariq A, Aslam M (2022):
Influence of edaphic properties in Determining Forest Community Patterns of Zabarwan Mountain Range of Kashmir Himalayas. Forests 13:1214: doi:10.3390/f13081214
Haq SM, Rashid I, Soares Calixto E, Ali A, Kumar M, Srivastava G, Bussmann RW, Khuroo AA (2022):
Unravelling patterns of forest carbon stock along a wide elevational gradient in the Himalaya: Implications for climate change mitigation. Forest Ecology and Management : doi: 10.1016/j.foreco.2022.120442
Haq SM, Yaqoob U, Hamid S, Hassan M, Bashir F, Bussmann RW. (2022):
Localized impact of livestock settlements on vegetation patterns in fir forests of Kashmir Himalaya. Acta Ecologica Sinica : 10.1016/j.chnaes.2022.07.004
Majeed M, Lu L, Haq SM, Waheed M, Sahito HA, Fatima S, Aziz R, Bussmann RW, Tariq A, Ullah I, Aslam M (2022):
Spatio-temporal distribution patterns of Climbers along the Abiotic gradient in District Jhelum Punjab Pakistan. Forests 13:1244: doi:10.3390/f13081244
Ur Rahman I, Afzal A, Iqbal Z, Soares Calixto E, Alkahtani J, Alwahibi MA, Ali N, Kausar R, Khan U, Bussmann RW. (2022):
Typology of pure Deodar forests driven by vegetation–environment relations in Manoor Valley Northwestern Himalaya. Applied Sciences 12:2753: doi: 10.3390/app12052753
Wali S, Jan HA, Haq SM, Soares Calixto E, Bussmann RW, Rahim F. (2022):
Phyto‑ecological study of the forests of Shishi Koh Valley Chitral Pakistan.. Vegetos : doi: 10.1007/s42535-022-00379-2
Xia C, Huang Y, Qi Y, Yang X, Xue T, Hu R, Deng H, Bussmann RW, Yu S. (2022):
Developing long-term conservation priority planning for medicinal plants in China by combining conservation status with diversity hotspot analyses and climate change prediction. BMC Biology 20(1): doi: 10.1186/s12915-022-01285-4
Zhang W, Wen D, Bussmann RW, Li J, Liu B, Xue T, Yang XD, Qin F, Liu HM, Yu S (2022):
Biodiversity hotspots and conservation efficiency of a large drainage basin: distribution patterns of species richness and conservation gaps analysis in the Yangtze River Basin China. Conservation Science and Practice : doi: 10.1111/csp2.12653