Have you ever asked yourself, “what kind of tree is this?” Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) has – 60,065 times. BGCI just created a database called GlobalTreeSearch to help answer this question and to support global research, conservation, and botanically-based interventions including forest landscape restoration (FLR).
Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), the organisation that represents the world’s botanic gardens, engaged scores of experts from botanical institutions across the world over two years, consulting more than 500 published references to assemble Global TreeSearch – the first comprehensive list of the world’s tree species and their country level distributions.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry, the authors highlight that more than half of all tree species are limited to a single country, and many of rare species are threatened with extinction. BGCI’s main reason for publishing the online database is to provide a helpful tool for people working to conserve rare and threatened species. Currently, around 10,000 tree species are known to be threatened with extinction, largely due to deforestation and over-exploitation. This figure includes over 300 species that are Critically Endangered with fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild.
The Global Tree Specialist Group of the IUCN will use GlobalTreeSearch as the basis for assessing the conservation status of all known tree species by 2020, under an initiative called the Global Tree Assessment. Informing this assessment is a major application of this online database, but is certainly not the only one. Craig Beatty of the IUCN Global Forest and Climate Change Programme (GFCCP) is excited about the applicability of this database to FLR efforts.
“The design of FLR activities will be greatly improved by GlobalTreeSearch. One of the main challenges in restoration is species selection, and until this ground-breaking work by Botanic Gardens Conservation International, IUCN relied on a patchwork approach of local species preference and availability.”
Mr. Beatty assured that while the focus on local knowledge in restoration interventions will continue, it is often the case that locally available or preferred species have changed drastically over the past 30 years as landscapes have increasingly degraded. Building from this shifting situation, he continued to reflect on the utility of the database.
“GlobalTreeSearch provides us with a baseline inventory of tree species for each country we work in, and the foundational knowledge that is required to ensure that restoration planning and activity can effectively contribute to improved livelihoods and ecology through the restoration of tree species. This information will be essential as we work with countries to plan and implement their commitments to forest landscape restoration.”
Reflecting on the achievement of this new online tool, Dr. Paul Smith, BGCI’s Secretary General, explains “Although it seems extraordinary that it has taken us until 2017 to publish the first global, authoritative list of tree species, it is worth remembering that GlobalTreeSearch represents a huge scientific effort encompassing the discovery, collection and describing of tens of thousands of plant species. This is ‘big science’ involving the work of thousands of botanists over a period of centuries.”
We now know that there are 60,065 species of trees in the world, and we have a good idea of where they are. Let’s put this data to good use.