Protecting plant species diversity in South America

A study using more than half a million plant occurrence records downloaded via GBIF, covering over 16,000 species, has developed a network of 'virtual parks' to assess how well biodiversity is currently protected in South America.

Data resources used via GBIF : 513,368 plant records used from GBIF
Photo: Oxbow lake, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. Credit: Geoff Galice.

Photo: Oxbow lake, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador. Credit: Geoff Galice.

In this study, researchers from Colombia, the United Kingdom and United States used a large volume of data published through GBIF to identify critical areas for conservation of plant diversity across South America.

The team analysed records of more than half a million GBIF-mediated records of 16,000 plant species, and developed a map showing ‘virtual parks’ where a large number of threatened and locally-unique species occurred within a 100km area. These were found to correspond well with real, existing protected areas – by prioritizing 24 protected areas, the researchers argue, up to 70 per cent of South American plant diversity will be conserved.

They also reveal gaps in existing coverage, suggesting new measures to conserve 200 plant species not currently included in any protected area. Critical areas to monitor, expand and strengthen are mainly located in the Ecuadorian and Colombian Andes, southern Paraguay, the Guyana shield, southern Brazil, and Bolivia. The lead author of the study said the analysis would not have been possible without the ability to access occurrence data through GBIF.

Ramirez-Villegas, J., Jarvis, A. & Touval, J., 2012. Analysis of threats to South American flora and its implications for conservation. Journal for Nature Conservation. Available at:

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