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Australasian Plant Conservation (formerly Danthonia)

Originally published in Danthonia 7(1), June 1998

Plants and the IUCN Species Survival Commission

David Given
Chair IUCN Species Survival Commission's Plant Conservation Subcommittee,
Christchurch, New Zealand

About a year ago the ANPC agreed to become a Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) of the IUCN - The World Conservation Union. The Commission is a global network linking some 8000 conservation specialists and enthusiasts through a network of interest groups (Specialist Groups). Although many are taxonomically based, an increasing number are (like ANPC) regional in nature. In addition there are several disciplinary groups covering areas such as invasive species, captive breeding and re-introductions.

The SSC plant programme is coordinated by the Commission's Plant Conservation Subcommittee (PCS) and its key phrase is `Bringing plants to the heart of conservation'. The vision of the PCS is `a world where plants lie at the heart of biodiversity convention initiatives, underpin the implementation of sustainable development programmes, and attract a greater share of financial and other resources to their study and conservation'. The PCS itself is currently made up of eighteen hard-working plant conservationists representing a wide range of regions, disciplines and institutions. It meets annually and between meetings members continue to work by email. Wendy Strahm is the full-time Plants Officer for SSC, based in Switzerland. Important components of the plant work of SSC are the plant Specialist Groups, of which there are29, with an increasing number being geographically-based.

What are some of the major issues?

  • `Plantlink' Initiative: The focus is to bring plants into other aspects of conservation, especially that undertaken on animals, with an increasing focus on ecosystem management - conserving the ecosystems where plants live, recognising and studying plant-animal linkages such as pollination systems, and encouraging joint animal-plant meetings.
  • 'Top-50' Initiative: A concept developed by Dr Charles Stirton (previous chair of the PCS), the idea of the 'Top-50' is to select 50 taxa of conservation concern or interest from a wide range of taxonomic groups, regions and habitats. Pilot schemes are being run for Ferns and for the Canary Islands, and we are looking at ways of developing the concept further.
  • Sustainable Use Initiatives: The WCMC/SSC Conservation and Sustainable Use of Trees Project has been completed and a World List of Threatened Trees is now almost ready for publication. This lists more than 6,000 species, or about a tenth of the world's trees. There are a considerable number of plant-based sustainable use initiatives under way and we are looking at ways of linking the SSC network with the best of these. [Ed. WCMC is the World Conservation Monitoring Centre].
  • Red Listing of Plants: The first global listing of threatened plants, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants was launched at several international sites (including Canberra) on 8 April. The next step is to assess plant species using the new threat criteria, following their current review and assessment of pilot project use on a range of plants and animals. [See page 4 of this issue].
  • Action Plans: The Cactus and Succulent Plants: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan has been recently published and several plant action plans are under preparation.
  • Information Technology: There are major changes occurring and we are seeing the advent of meta-database systems which can be accessed on highly portable equipment in any part of the world. One of our problems is that much existing software has been biased towards animals and their particular characteristics (especially mammals and birds). SSC has a number of initiatives in train at the present time and is maintaining links to the global Biodiversity Conservation Information System (BCIS) initiative. We need to be constantly innovative in use of technology and there are some good examples of this emerging. eg. a recent CD-ROM for the cycads, which suggests that perhaps all Specialist Groups could be funded to produce a CD-ROM version of their Action Plans or their 'Top-50' set.
  • Regionalisation: We see regionalisation as important, but in determining which regions are a priority plant conservationists need to ensure that selected 'biodiversity hotspots' reflect plant interests. This is where the work of groups such as ANPC is so important.
  • Spreading the Word: Apart from the web site, PCS is committed to doing this through a variety of media. As I write this we are just finishing a 24 page plant supplement for World Conservation, the flagship publication of IUCN. PCS has supported in principle new editions of Plants in Danger - what do we know and Wild Plants and the Law, and we are looking at greater opportunities to link with local and international conferences.

The Plant Conservation Subcommittee's Web Page address is: http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/our_work/plants/indexplants.htm