It can be difficult for conservationists and ecologists to keep track of the many plant species out there. That’s why they rely on taxonomic lists as their main tool.
Now, a group of researchers has just compiled the world’s most comprehensive list of plant species, which will soon become a valuable tool for all researchers out there.
The list has 1,315,562 names of vascular plants, extending the number of recognized plant species in previous lists, as well as clarifying 181,000 previously unclear species names. It took more than ten years of painstaking work to make all this happen.
The curator of the Botanical Garden of Leipzig University, Dr. Martin Freiberg, carried out the work alongside colleagues from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). They believe the recently published list could help to make Leipzig a leading international center of plant biodiversity research.
Known as the Leipzig Catalogue of Vascular Plants (LCVP), this outstanding research could end up replacing The Plant List (TPL) – a plant catalog created by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London. Until now, TPL has been the most important reference source for plant researchers around the world
“In my daily work I regularly come across species names that are not clear, where existing reference lists have gaps,” Freiberg said in a statement. “This always means additional research, which keeps you from doing your actual work. I wanted to eliminate this obstacle as well as possible.”
The creation of the LCVP involved a thorough search of available and relevant plant taxonomic databases and over 4,500 publications to collate a raw data table of existing plant names. Freiberg compiled the information, harmonized it, and standardized all the names listed according to the best possible criteria.
He also investigated further discrepancies such as different spellings and synonyms and added thousands of new species to the existing lists. The LCVP now has an impressive amount of 351,180 vascular plant species and 6160 natural hybrids across 13,460 genera, 564 families, and 84 orders
This means that it contains over 70,000 more species and subspecies than The Plant List, which used to be the go-to guide for conservationists. But the latter hasn’t been updated since 2013, which has turned it into a somewhat outdated tool for research, Freiberg said, hoping for the LCVP to replace it with its more updated information.
Freiberg also compared the LCVP with a recent program by Kew called Plants of the World Online (POWO), which includes a new taxonomic reference backbone and could become the successor of TPL. He found that his own research contains significantly more species name information than POWO.
“The catalog will help considerably in ensuring that researchers all over the world refer to the same species when they use a name,” said Freiberg. “I intended the data set for internal use in Leipzig. But colleagues from other botanical gardens in Germany urged me to make the work available to everyone.”
The research that led to the new list was published in the journal Scientific Data.