1000 new species for Nigeria

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Nigeria is home to over 4,700 vascular plants - and likely many more undocumente
Nigeria is home to over 4,700 vascular plants - and likely many more undocumented species. Photo: Alexandra Muellner-Riehl

To date, over 1000 vascular plants in Nigeria may be undescribed, making it impossible to know whether or not these plants are endangered and in need of protection. This is one of the key results of a new study led by researchers from the German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and Leipzig University, published in "Annals of Botany". In order to meet the targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework (CBD), urgent measures are required that promote local taxonomic activities.

Africa is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth, hosting a quarter of global biodiversity. The continent is home to 8 of the world’s 34 biodiversity hotspots, and of many endemic and endangered species. One of these biodiversity hotspots is the Niger Delta mangrove forest in Nigeria. Nigeria is home to over 4,700 vascular plants - and likely many more undocumented species. -Documenting the full account of plant diversity is essential for protecting threatened species and ensuring they can sustain human needs before they become extinct-, says senior author Professor Muellner-Riehl from Leipzig University, who is also an iDiv Member.

A team of researchers from iDiv and Leipzig University set out to update species diversity data from Nigeria, thus supporting plant-species-related indicators in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This framework calls for urgent action to recover biodiversity by 2030 for the benefit of both the planet and people, and a key part of the Kunming-Montreal GBF is the goal of a tenfold reduction of the rate of species extinction and risk by 2050. Many international organizations, including the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), have called for speeding up species description to better understand and protect biodiversity.

To find out more about this process in Nigeria, the researchers analysed the numbers of species described per year in a time series starting as early as 1753 and ending in 2020. They then simulated various trends and forecasted future descriptions until 2070. They found that there may be over 1000 as-yet-undescribed vascular plants in Nigeria, based on the current level of taxonomic activity. This bears the potential of an approximate 20% increase in the recognised species of vascular plants in Nigeria over the next 50 years. -To achieve the forecasted value of 1140 species by 2070, each taxonomist active in Nigeria from the year 2000 to the present day would need to describe at least two new species per year-, says Associate Professor Abubakar Bello, first author of the study. -However, over 90% of the taxonomists responsible for documenting Nigeria’s vascular plants are non-residents who no longer work within the country. Without further actions, this goal will not be reached.-

Urgent and stringent measures are therefore necessary for Nigeria and other developing economies in tropical Africa to overcome this taxonomic challenge, thereby fulfilling the expectations outlined in their commitments to the CBD’s Global Biodiversity Framework vision for 2050. The researchers also outline several key pathways to achieve this objective which could be implemented across tropical African countries, such as leveraging funding opportunities, fostering collaborations, investing in education and training, promoting public engagement, and recognizing local expertise.
The focus of this call was initiated by iDiv’s Internationalisation and Capacity Building Committee.

Original Publikation in "Annals of Botany":
"Trends in botanical exploration in Nigeria forecast over 1000 yet undescribed vascular plant species", DOI: 10.1093/aob/mcad106

Kati Kietzmann