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Australasian Plant Conservation (formerly Danthonia)

Originally published in Danthonia 7(1), June 1998

The 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants - the first global list of the world’s threatened flora

Jeanette Mill
National Coordinator, ANPC
Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Australasian Plant Specialist Group.

An event of global significance for threatened plants occurred on 9th April 1998 Australian time. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants was launched with events held in Canberra, London, Cape Town and Washington.

The publication (over 900 pages) is the first attempt to list all vascular plant species known to be globally threatened or extinct. Ferns, fern-allies, gymnosperms and flowering plants are covered, but not the lower plants, such as fungi, mosses and lichens. Of the estimated 270,000 known species of vascular plants, 33,798 of these, or 12.5%, are listed as globally threatened or extinct. Of these, 91% are limited in their distribution to a single country.

The pre-1994 IUCN Threat Categories are used. ie. Extinct (Ex), Extinct/Endangered (Ex/E), Endangered (E), Vulnerable (V) Rare (R) and Indeterminate (I). The term 'Threatened' covers all categories except Ex.

Numbers of species globally threatened or extinct by threat category.

Threat Category Ex Ex/E E V R I Total % of flora
World 380 371 6,522 7,951 14,504 4,070 33,798 12.5#
Australia 71   246 630 1,366 3 2,316 14.8*

# Calculated against a world flora of 270,000 species * Calculated against a flora of 15,638 species

Extinction figures are arguably a conservative estimate, as only recorded extinctions are listed.

The countries which were able to provide complete data sets are among those listed as having the highest percentage of their flora globally threatened. These are Australia with 14.4% (14.8% including extinct species), South Africa with 9.5 % and USA with 29%.

Islands, with their greater degree of risk due often to higher rates of endemism, ranked among those countries with the highest percentage of species threatened. eg Mauritius (39.2%), Seychelles (31.2%) and St Helena (41.2%).

The List was generated from the Threatened Plants Database of the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and is the culmination of around 30 years of data gathering from thousands of sources. However it represents the "tip of the iceberg" as there are still enormous gaps in taxonomic, distributional and conservation information, particularly from parts of Africa, Asia, the Carribean and South America. In addition, if data were only available for part of the known range of a species, the species was not included in the listing, even if it was suspected of being threatened.

Another important aspect not captured by the data, but noted in the Introduction as representing a much worse conservation scenario, is that of "genetic erosion and diminishing genetic diversity at the population level".

The urgency for filling these knowledge gaps is highlighted by this publication.

One of the major purposes quoted for the production of red lists (once called ROTAP* lists, now ANZECC lists, in Australia, one of the pioneering countries in developing these), is "To motivate people to participate in conservation networks, actions, and educational programs".

They are also described as the "unspectacular but indispensable root system from which true judgement and real conservation can grow."

* Rare or Threatened Australian Plants.


Walter, K. S. and Gillett, H. J. [eds] 1998, 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. Compiled by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre. IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. lxiv + 862pp. Available from IUCN Publications Services Unit, 219c Huntington Road, Cambridge, CB3 0DL, UK. Email: iucn-psu@wcmc.org.uk. Website: http://www.iucn.org