Science & Technology, Australia (Commonwealth Union) – A new study has found that nearly 4000 Australian plant species have not been photographed on prior occasions in the wild, that can lead to their extinction.
The documentation of plant species goes back centuries that assists us in knowing and protecting the diversity of flora globally. However, the new study indicates that many have not been photographed in their natural environment, which is a huge issue.
Researchers from The University of New South Wales (UNSW) and the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, conducted a survey on 33 major online databases of plant photographs to evaluate the photographic record of Australian plant species. The results of the study, published in New Phytologist, demonstrated that out of 21,077 native Australian vascular plant species, roughly 20% have no verifiable photograph.
Lead author of the study who is also a UNSW Science PhD student Thomas Mesaglio indicated that Australia remains one of the richest areas worldwide for native species and that it was astonishing seeing the amount of plant species that had just line drawings, illustrations, paintings, or even the absence of media completely.
Dr Hervé Sauquet, who is co-author of the study as well as the Senior Research Scientist at the Australian Institute of Botanical Science, is based at the National Herbarium of New South Wales.
“All species of plants ultimately rely on specimens in herbarium collections for their identification,” explained Dr Sauquet. “Yet, even in this digital age where most herbarium specimens have been scanned and are accessible on the web, photos of live plants in the wild remain in critical need.”
Senior author of the study from UNSW Science Associate Professor Will Cornwell indicated that the absence of detailed photos may lead to real consequences. Many plant species hard to identify in the wild may end up extinct if scientists are unable to properly identify them with the assistance of photos.
“We had assumed every plant species would have simply been photographed by someone, somewhere, throughout history. But it turns out this isn’t the case,” said Associate Professor Cornwell.
“This is where citizen scientists can come in and help us fill this gap with their photos.”
Citizen scientist have provided economical ways to collect data over a large area or for a long period of time. Researchers may not have the resources to collect data on their own, so citizen scientists can help fill in the gaps. This can be particularly important for research projects that require long-term monitoring, such as tracking the effects of climate change on ecosystems.
Citizen science also brings diverse perspectives to scientific research. They come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, which can bring new perspectives and insights to scientific research. This can lead to more innovative research and help address gaps in scientific knowledge.
The researchers recommend a standardized system for scientific plant photography to be formed, beginning with a need in the International Code of Nomenclature for Plants to consist of at least 1 field photograph and if able a new species description. They further stated that all new species descriptions be published as Open Access in searchable databases with Creative Commons licensing to enhance their use.
“We also suspect more photos exist, but they’re hidden away on social media or behind scientific paywalls that aren’t accessible, discoverable, or searchable,” said Mr Mesaglio.
“Of the species with photographs, many have a single photo. We not only want to capture those unrepresented species but also continue building the photographic record for all species.
“Doing so will help us identify, monitor and conserve our native species for generations to come.”