Histories of plant life to be shared in conservation bid

A huge database of plant life histories gathered over almost 50 years and being launched today will be freely available to fast-track crucial conservation research.

Great Basin Desert

The COMPADRE Plant Matrix database will play a leading role in how climate change is affecting the world and how increasing human populations are rapidly reshaping plant distributions.

It is aimed at fostering collaborations between scientists so species critical for ecosystem services that humans depend on are protected.

An ecological service is any beneficial natural process arising from healthy ecosystems such as the purification of water and air, pollination of plants and decomposition of waste.

Botanists at Trinity College Dublin played a leading role in compiling the database of nearly 600 plant life species across the world.

They clubbed together with like-minded individuals across five continents to share 48 years of global plant data.

Trinity College Dublin ecologist Thomas Deane said the researchers had just published an article in the Journal of Ecology that describes the database.

“By making the precious data it contains free to download, they hope to inspire and accelerate important global research on plant biology,” said Mr Deane.

The database facilitates contact with the researchers who have contributed to it. Not only will it speed up research, it will allow information on other plant species to be added to it.

“We are losing upwards of 30 plant species a day in the rain forest and we have absolutely no idea about them and we really don’t know what we are doing when we are changing land usage” said Mr Deane.

One of the article’s authors, TCD professor of zoology, Yvonne Buckley, said they hoped the data would help answer some of the most pressing and environmental and evolutionary questions facing modern society.

“We hope that other scientists will uses the data to answer questions such as why, unlike humans, some plants don’t deteriorate as they age; why some environments are better for agriculture than others and how fast plant populations will move in response to climate change?” said Prof Buckley.

“Making the database freely available is our 21st century revamp of the similarly inspired investments in living plant collections that were made to botanic gardens through the centuries,” said Prof Buckley.

Prof Buckley said we were used to shops, websites and companies keeping track of our purchases, what we eat, who we date, and even when and how we exercise.

“We rely on plants for some of our most basic needs like food, shelter and clothing. It is therefore vital that we know the hows, whys and wherefores’ governing the success of a diverse range of plant species so that we can protect them and put them to use for the good of the world.”

“The data have been collected over the past 48 years by many scientists on five continents, with sites ranging from the searing heat of deserts to the freezing cold of arctic and alpine plant communities. ”

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