Show me the data!

I’ve written 29 blog posts this year! Still time for one more…

This work relates to my new postdoc at the University of Cambridge in Sam Brockington’s group.

I’ve been closely examining IUCN RedList data for plant taxa and found some rather odd things.

Out of the 100 or so plant species that the IUCN RedList asserts as ‘extinct’, at least 16 of them are growing alive and well somewhere in the world at the moment.

For some species even Wikipedia notes the conflict between reality and the ‘official’ IUCN assessment e.g. for Rauvolfia nukuhivensis.

Here are the 16 plant species that I think are incorrectly assessed as ‘extinct’ right now by the IUCN RedList:

Astragalus nitidiflorus, Cnidoscolus fragrans, Cynometra beddomei, Dipterocarpus cinereus, Dracaena umbraculifera, Madhuca insignis, Melicope cruciata, Ochrosia brownii, Ochrosia fatuhivensis, Ochrosia tahitensis, Pausinystalia brachythyrsum, Pouteria stenophylla, Rauvolfia nukuhivensis, Wendlandia angustifolia, Wikstroemia skottsbergiana, Wikstroemia villosa

Additionally to the 16 above, with less certainty, I also think the Hawaiian taxa Delissea kauaiensis and Delissea niihauensis might have some individuals still alive according to this Department of Land and Natural Resources ‘Fact Sheet’ from 2013.


Why not harness the wisdom of the crowds and/or semi-automated text mining?


It’s remarkable that the IUCN RedList still lists some of these as ‘extinct’ when there are easily findable peer-reviewed articles reporting the rediscovery and hence extant status of these taxa. To their credit, many are listed as “needs updating” but still, if there are important updates to statuses why not just go in and make the change(s) to correct the record?   The IUCN RedList page listing Wendlandia angustifolia as ‘extinct’ is possibly the worst example – it was reported as rediscovered back in the year 2000, more than a decade ago! The IUCN has had 15 years to update their incorrect assertion of ‘extinct’ for this taxon!

I can’t possibly go through the literature and check all other IUCN-listed plant taxa myself but this does seem like a great opportunity for ContentMine tools to help the IUCN RedList stay on top of the latest updates about IUCN RedListed taxa. See ‘Daily updates on IUCN Red List species‘ for more on that idea.


Below I list sources of information relating to the 16 species that I think are definitely NOT extinct, despite being listed as such on the IUCN RedList.

Wahyu, Y., Wihermanto, N., Risna, R. A., and Ashton, P. S. 2013. Rediscovery of the supposedly extinct Dipterocarpus cinereus. Oryx 47:324.

Martínez-Sánchez, J. J., Segura, F., Aguado, M., Franco, J. A., and Vicente, M. J. 2011. Life history and demographic features of Astragalus nitidiflorus, a critically endangered species. Flora – Morphology, Distribution, Functional Ecology of Plants 206:423-432.

Lorence, D. and Butaud, J.-F. 2011. A reassessment of Marquesan Ochrosia and Rauvolfia (Apocynaceae) with two new combinations. PhytoKeys 4:95+

Viswanathan MB, Harrison Premkumar E, Ramesh N. 2000. Rediscovery of Wendlandia angustifolia Wight ex Hook.f. (Rubiaceae), from Tamil Nadu, a species presumed extinct. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 97. (2): 311-313

Oppenheimer, H. 2011. New Hawaiian plant records for 2009 Records of the Hawaii Biological Survey for 2009–2010. Bishop Museum Occasional Papers 110: 5–10 [notes the rediscovery of Wikstroemia villosa]

Shenoy et al. 2014. Extended distribution of Madhuca insignis (Radlk.) H. J. Lam. (Sapotaceae) – A Critically Endangered species in Shimoga District of Karnataka. ZOO’s PRINT  Volume XXIX, Number 6

Sudhi, K. S. 2012. Rediscovered tree still ‘extinct’ on IUCN Red List. The Hindu. [Cynometra beddomeii]

Missouri Botanical Garden 2012. Umbrella Draceana. [Dracaena umbraculifera might be extinct in the wild, but it is still successfully grown in many botanical gardens!]