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Climate change a real threat to the Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants - UPDATE 2017

06 October 2017
Photo: iucn-mpsg

In 2005, the Mediterranean Islands Plant Specialist Group (IUCN/SSC) published The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants - Wild plants at the brink of extinction and what is needed to save them. A decade later, the publication has been updated to assess any changes that may have occurred in the conservation status of these 50 plant species and to see what measures have been taken to improve their conservation status.

Almost half of the plants (22) have a modified level of threat compared to the 2005 assessment. 21 plants species have a lower threat level and only one has a higher one. This is the case of  Lysimachia minoricensis which is now considered as Extinct in the Wild (EW), since all attempts to reintroduce this species into its natural environment have failed and living collections are found only in botanical gardens or seed banks.

Photo: iucn-mpsgAlthough the improvement in the threat level for nearly half of the plants is in itself encouraging, it does not reflect solely a real improvement in the conservation status of these species, but in some cases, is due only to an improvement of the knowledge of the species. In many cases, the conservation measures implemented have stabilized or improved the situation.

However, all these plants are still threatened with extinction and efforts to conserve them must continue. Climate change, a threat that was still somewhat theoretical in 2005, is becoming more evident and the mitigation of its effects on very localized species represents an important challenge.

The booklet presents a selection of 50 of the most threatened plant species growing on Mediterranean islands. It aims to draw the attention of both the public and policy-makers to the vulnerability of island flora and call for urgent conservation measures. Each sheet of species gives a description of the species with illustrations and maps, emphasizing the threats to the species, existing and additional conservation measures. 

Photo: iucn-mpsgThe Mediterranean basin is one of the world’s richest places in terms of animal and plant diversity. Nearly 25,000 species of flowering plants and ferns are native to the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin, and 60% of these plants are found nowhere else in the world. It also contains nearly 5,000 islands and islets. While many of these are quite small (4,000 cover an area of less than 10 km²), there are also many larger islands such as Sicily (with an area of 25,700 km2). Thanks to their isolation on islands, some ancient plant species have managed to survive while their relatives on the mainland became extinct.

We invite you to visit this new publication online “The Top 50 Mediterranean Island Plants UPDATE 2017”  and discover the wonders of Mediterranean islands flora!



Our Red List Species Assessors: Understanding and protecting fern and lycopod diversity, an interview with Henry Väre

29 September 2017
Photo: Heidi Kaipiainen-Väre

Pteridophytes, which include ferns and lycopods, are spore-producing plants usually found in humid environments. They provide shelter and habitat for many small animals and play essential roles in soil erosion prevention, stream bank stabilisation, removal of pollutants from the environment and soil creation on barren habitats. In this interview with Dr Henry Väre, a fern expert based in Helsinki, Finland, he talks about his work and involvement

This is the fifth of a series of interviews with our Red List Species Assessors currently involved in IUCN’s European Red Lists LIFE project. Our interviewee is a fern expert, but future interviews will profile beetle, moss, mollusc, and other plant experts. The project aims to assess the extinction risk of these species groups, and will contribute to guiding policy decisions and conservation actions at the European level. You can find previous interviews of this series here.

Athyrium distentifolium. Photo: Henry VareDr Henry Väre first became interested in plants when he was young. “I have always been interested in recognising items – first I collected stamps, and studied the geography of the countries where those stamps were released. Later, I begun to collect plants and became interested in finding out what those plants were, as well as their background and history. I decided that taxonomy would be my field.”

After a PhD at the University of Oulu in Finland, Dr Väre became a plant taxonomist and is currently working at the Botanic Museum of the University of Helsinki, studying the biogeographical evolution of South African ferns. “I am the best in the field at recognising plants, and I am truly interested in the relationships between the species, their background and evolution, and how different species have formed and spread. There is a term called reticulate evolution, meaning that many fern species have evolved due to hybridization between species. It is interesting to clarify which species are “behind” the current ones.” 

Dr Väre first became involved with the IUCN European Red List when a colleague of his, Maarten Christenhusz invited him to collaborate in the European Red List of Lycopods and Ferns being developed though the European Red Lists LIFE project.  “I have assessed the risk of extinction of the Dryopteris species, a very interesting fern genus. Many species are born through hybridization, which means that their chromosome numbers have been duplicated, or quadruplicated, and so on. Those species are very difficult to separate from each other. To be sure of the taxonomic status we have to use molecular biology.”

Photo: Heidi Kaipiainen-Väre Working with ferns requires excellent identification skills, and for Dr Väre field work is the best part of the job. “I love doing field work. You get to go to exotic places, but you also need to have a very good background knowledge of what you expect to find, in order to study those species which you can recognise. You cannot go to the field and just collect something – you have to know your study subject very well before going to the field.”

According to Dr Väre, construction activities are usually the main threat to ferns and lycopods in Europe. Climate change could also become a threat in the future, but this has proven difficult to evaluate so far. As for how we can protect these species, we should rely on protected land and water areas. “In particular water ferns are very sensitive to water pollution, so clean water is essential. Avoiding building infrastructure in certain areas is the best way to protect ferns.

However, ferns and lycopods are resilient plants and are doing better than many flowering species due to their good dispersal abilities. “In general, fern and lycopod spores spread very easily since they are quite small. Even in more fragmented landscapes such as in Europe they have an advantage. Many fern species occur in mountainous areas, and usually there is enough wind to take spores from one place to another easily. However water ferns are the exception, as they are highly threatened and usually more restricted.”

Dryopteris Fragrans. Photo: Henry Vare. Dr Väre has been involved in red listing efforts for some time, and has participated in the red list assessment of Finnish flora. “Red List assessments are necessary to provide the necessary information to decision makers. I would highly recommend people to join these evaluation projects on their own expertise fields. I will also be participating in another evaluation of Artic species globally and continue with this kind of work in the future.”

His work with European ferns will be part of the upcoming European Red List of Lycopods and Ferns, which will reveal the status of European pteridophyte species and inform conservation decisions in Europe. “I hope the report will be spread effectively to the right people, including local nature protection people and administrators.”

As for Dr Väre’s favourite species: “The Fragrant Woodfern (Dryopteris fragrans) – the main population is in Finland and this fern is very beautiful. Its name relates to their very pleasant smell.”



Paris Agreement only chance for coral reef survival – IUCN

22 September 2017
Soft corals in the Beqa Lagoon, Vitu Levu, Fiji.Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Klaus Jost

Limiting global warming to below 2°C in line with the Paris Agreement provides the only chance for the survival of coral reefs, warns David Obura, Chair of the International Union for Conservation of  Nature (IUCN)’s Coral Reef Specialist Group, writing today in the journal Science.

Latest data show that globally reefs have a chance of long-term survival if warming is limited to under 2oC, though even this may be too little too late for many reef systems.

Seascape with coral in Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea. Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Pietro Formis.“We are on the doorstep of a world without coral reefs and the only way to avoid this is through the full implementation of the Paris Agreement,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “We cannot afford to lose these uniquely rich ecosystems which provide food, livelihoods and coastal protection to 500 million people worldwide.”

As well as limiting warming the world must also deal with non-climate threats to reefs, such as pollution and overfishing, to give them a chance of survival, the Science editorial warns. To tackle these threats, economic systems must become sustainable and circular, minimising waste as well as emissions, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Tropical fish and coral reefs around the Fakarava atoll in French Polynesia. Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Catherine Gras.“We need urgent global action to curb greenhouse gas emissions if we are to help reefs survive the devastating wave of coral bleaching we have seen over the last three years, and that will further intensify in the future,” says David Obura. “The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals provide a framework for that action. World leaders must now stand behind these commitments if coral reefs are to survive the Anthropocene.”

He also points to the need for grassroots and large-scale conservation initiatives throughout the tropics to help ensure reef survival. Frontier research, such as efforts to accelerate genetic selection towards heat-resistant corals, is also needed, he writes.

The editorial can be accessed here.

For more information or interviews please contact:

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations,, +41 76 505 33 78



Severe threats to biodiversity from neonicotinoid pesticides revealed in latest scientific review

20 September 2017
Neonicotinoids are linked to the steep decline in bees. Photo: © dasWebweib CC BY 2.0.

Neonicotinoid pesticides pose severe threats to ecosystems worldwide, according to an update to the world’s most comprehensive scientific review of the ecological impacts of systemic pesticides released by IUCN's Task Force on Systemic Pesticides (TFSP) this week.

The second edition of the Worldwide Integrated Assessment of the Effects of Systemic Pesticides on Biodiversity and Ecosystems synthesises more than 500 studies since 2014, including some industry-sponsored studies. It was released by the TFSP, an international group of independent scientists convened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The updated assessment confirms that neonics have major impacts and represent a worldwide threat to biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services. The review also considered fipronil, a systemic pesticide used in Europe.

Neonics are toxic even at very low doses. They are water soluble and very persistent, i.e. do not readily degrade in soil, resulting in sustained and chronic exposure in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Extensive and routine application of neonics in agriculture is causing large-scale environmental contamination and a significant threat to biodiversity.

Neonics, which are linked to the steep decline of bees, also have the potential to contaminate our food systems. A closely related systemic pesticide, fipronil, is currently at the center of a growing food safety scandal in Europe after high levels of the toxic insecticide were detected in egg products sold in 15 EU states, plus Switzerland and Hong Kong. Millions of eggs have been recalled from shops and warehouses across Europe out of concerns that contaminated eggs pose a serious safety risk to consumers.

First introduced in the 1990s, neonics are now the most widely used insecticides in the world. Agricultural applications include seed treatments, soil treatments, foliar sprays and turf products. Neonics are also used in forestry, flea treatments for pets and domestic and commercial lawn-care products.

“Today’s findings reiterate the need to stop massive uses of systemic pesticides, including most urgently their prophylactic use in seed treatment,” said Jean-Marc Bonmatin, a research scientist at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and TFSP vice-chair. “The use of these pesticides runs contrary to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. It provides no real benefit to farmers, decreases soil quality, hurts biodiversity and contaminates water, air and food. There is no longer any reason to continue down this path of destruction.”

The report is composed of three papers reviewing new data on the mode of action, metabolism, toxicity and environmental contamination of neonicotinoids and fipronil; the lethal and sublethal effects of neonicotinoids and fipronil on organisms and their impacts on ecosystems; and the efficacy of neonicotinoids and fipronil in agriculture and alternative approaches to pest control.

“Only a tiny fraction of pesticide use serves its purpose to fight pests. Most simply contaminates the environment with extensive damage to non-target organisms,” said Faisal Moola, an adjunct professor of ecology at the University of Toronto.  

In 2013, the European Union imposed a moratorium on certain uses of imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam on bee-attractive crops, and is now considering a proposal to extend this moratorium. France’s new biodiversity law includes a provision to ban all neonics starting in September 2018.

“Overall, the global experiment with neonics is emerging as a clear example of pest-control failure,” Bonmatin said. “Governments around the world must follow the lead of countries like France to ban neonics and move toward sustainable, integrated pest management models, without delay.”

The TFSP’s 2017 update will be published in a forthcoming edition of the scientific journal Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

See here for more information on the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides



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