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To save species, more land needs protection

Researchers from the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families collecting plant species.
[Image courtesy of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew]

The Convention on Biological Diversity has set two goals—among many others—to be accomplished by 2020. They involve protecting 17% of the planet's land surface and conserving 60% of the plant species on such protected land. But, lately, researchers have wondered if both goals can be met at the same time.

Now, a study by Lucas Joppa and colleagues suggests that they can—but only if conservationists do more to protect the corners of the Earth that harbor the most life. Because, according to the researchers, the regions of the world that need the most protection, such as Caribbean islands and Mediterranean ecosystems, aren't necessarily covered by today's national parks.

The researchers studied data on about 110,000 different plant species using one of the largest databases of plant life in the world, put together by the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England. They then used computer models to identify the smallest stretches of land that contain the largest number of plant species. They discovered that about 67% of all the world's plants are unique to just 17% of the globe—and that, currently, less than one-sixth of that valuable land is protected.

The regions of the world that the researchers identified as particularly rich in species includes about 75 percent of all the world's plant species, as well as most bird, mammal and amphibian species. It's made up of many islands, as well as the northern Andes Mountains, the Caribbean, Central America and certain parts of Africa and Asia.

The researchers' findings indicate that much more land needs to be set aside and protected if both goals, mentioned above, are to be met by 2020.