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A detailed map of North and South America's plant diversity

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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IMAGE: Kunhardtia rhodantha is in the family Rapateaceae, which is a family almost endemic to the Americas. This material relates to a paper that appeared in the 22 Dec. 2017, issue... view more 

Credit: P. Berry

A team of researchers has complied a comprehensive list of all known plants that take root throughout North and South America, shedding light on plant diversity and patterns across the two continents. In a related Perspective, Thomas J. Givnish calls the undertaking "a monumental achievement that will be of enormous interest to conservation biologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, biogeographers, land managers, and governmental officials around the world." The publicly searchable checklist includes 124,993 species, 6227 genera, and 355 families - which make up 33% of all known vascular plant species worldwide. To create such a database, Carmen Ulloa Ulloa et al. compiled regional plant checklists across the Americas that were created by scientists between 1993 and 2016. The authors report that 51,241 species occur in North America and 82,052 in South America, with a mere 8,300 species shared between the two continents. South America has more plant species than Africa, despite the fact that the latter continent is nearly twice as large. Within the Americas, Brazil has the most diverse flora, the authors found. They report that the vast majority of plant species in the Americas are found in only one country or region. Based on the number of new plant species that are discovered each year, Ulloa Ulloa et al. predict that an additional 25,000 species or so will be documented by 2050, for the Americas.

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