Red List of Aquatic Plants

Red Listing Aquatic Plants from the Arabian Peninsula

Freshwater habitats and biodiversity in the Arabian Peninsula are unique and highly valued for the essential role they play in people’s survival, as well as that of its native flora and fauna. The limited number and area of wetland systems within the region, and the restricted size of many of them, constrains the distribution of species and the abundance of species in many basins. The greatest numbers of freshwater species and threatened species are found in the mountains of Yemen, the Socotra Archipelago, southwest Saudi Arabia and Dhofar in southern Oman. These areas, identified as centres of freshwater biodiversity and threat, can help focus development and conservation actions in ways that aim to minimise impacts to freshwater species throughout the region. The project evaluates the conservation status of 292 species belonging to five taxonomic groups – 18 fish taxa, 30 molluscs taxa, 59 dragonflies and damselflies taxa (odonates)and 3 freshwater crabs. In total, 182 wetland dependent plants are also assessed. Overall, 17% of the Arabian freshwater taxa assessed are threatened with extinction at the regional scale, with a further 3% assessed as Near Threatened and 20% as Data Deficient. The success of conservation planning in order to guarantee the future sustainability of livelihoods, as well as the resources and services provided by functioning wetland ecosystems depends critically on the adequate involvement of communities in the long-term future of freshwater species and habitats across the region. By compiling this existing information and updating it where possible this report provides an important resource for current and future decision making on the management and conservation of inland waters.  

Developing capacity for in situ conservation in Iraq

Iraq is facing major threats to its biodiversity following years of unstable government, breakdown in traditional land management and more recently rapid development. Almost 30 years of scientific isolation has resulted in limited in-country capacity to deal with these threats. At present the only organisation in Iraq actively engaged in conservation work is Nature Iraq, who have adopted the Key Biodiversity Areas (KBA) approach to identifying biodiversity-rich regions. Since 2005 BirdLife International has been supporting this work, conducting surveys and running training courses in collaboration with Nature Iraq. More recently, CMEP (part of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) has also been working with Nature Iraq to develop botanical training in Iraq. These activities have involved staff and students alongside personnel from major Iraqi organisations with an interest in the environment including the major Universities and Ministries in both Iraq and the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR). The birds of the region are relatively well known and progress in identifying KBAs based on bird data has been good. However, plants are relatively poorly known and there is a lack of appropriate identification tools. Flora of Iraq and Flora Iranica, the two floras covering the region, are almost complete; but, it has been found on recent training courses, they are linguistically and technically almost totally inaccessible to Iraqi professionals and students. Conservation work in Iraq cannot wait for the completion of these Floras or their conversion into more user-friendly formats. To address the lack of plant data available to inform conservation planning in Iraq and to build capacity for surveying and managing biodiversity-rich areas, the project partners have together identified three overlapping and complementary areas of work:
  1. Collection of botanical data to build capacity for conservation.
  2. Capacity building in Protected Area Management.
  3. Training in foundation skills in botany, ornithology and conservation.
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Evolutionary Conservation

Integrating evolution into practical conservation

The Socotra Archipelago has been referred to as ‘the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean’: its’ charismatic flora sits at the crossroads of three biogeographical regions and includes such intriguing endemic life forms as the dragon’s blood tree Dracaena cinnabari. The island is topographically, geologically and climatically diverse, with endemic taxa concentrated in high altitude ‘wet refugia’ which experience increased precipitation. Endemic taxa are also found on dry upland limestone plateaus and coastal plains. Several genera appear to have radiated within and among these refugia, while others appear to have radiated on an island-by-island basis throughout the archipelago. Socotra harbours some 835 vascular plant species: 308 of these (37%) and 14 genera are found nowhere else. This is complemented by high levels of animal endemism, resulting in its’ designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve, WWF Global 200 Ecoregion and Plantlife International Centre of Plant Diversity. Despite this, it does not qualify as a biodiversity hotspot in its own right as it falls short of the criterion of 0.5% of the world’s plant species as endemics, although its’ 37% plant species endemism exceeds that of 11 out of 34 officially designated hotspots. When ranked by number of endemic species per km2 it is exceeded by a single oceanic archipelago (Hawai’i) and isolated continental islands that are much larger (eg. New Caledonia, Jamaica). Socotra is a continental fragment whose extant biota may reflect vicariant or dispersed elements, in contrast to oceanic islands where taxa have dispersed, adapted and diversified in situ on a clean slate of environmental opportunity. While the flora and its traditional uses have been comprehensively described, the evolutionary drivers of this diversity and endemism are poorly understood. Conservation assessments have been carried out for most of its vascular plant species and areas designated for protection: however these designations do not take into account the evolutionary uniqueness of the flora or identify and conserve the processes by which it has evolved.

Objective One:

Are protected areas on Socotra best defined by patterns of plant phylogenetic diversity?

Objective Two:

What is the origin of the Socotran flora, and what processes have driven the evolution of the island’s endemic species?

Objective Three:

How can evolution be integrated into practical conservation strategies?  

Important Plant Areas in Arabia

Identifying the most important sites for wild plant diversity

Over 100 provisional Important Plant Area (IPA) sites have been identified in Saudi Arabia, Oman & Yemen. CMEP is engaged with project partners in surveying and producing final assessments of these sites as IPAs. IPA programs are a response to Target V of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Target V states ‘Protection of 50 per cent of the most important areas for plant diversity assured.’ Data from IPA habitat and species surveys is intended to inform this conservation planning process. In Saudi Arabia, a number of IPA sites have been proposed as protected areas. To date, IPA full site assessments have been published, on Jibal Qaraqir, the Farasan Islands, Uruq Bani Ma’arid and Jabal Aja’. CMEP developed criteria for IPA selection in Arabia with the IUCN Arabian Plant Specialist Group. Criteria for the Arabian region specifically include relict species and refugia for connectivity and climate change mitigation. They also target traditional protected areas (himas in Saudi Arabia, hamiyah in Oman) for inclusion in the network.


Improving Afghan capacity for environmental protection

Afghanistan is home to between 3500-5000 plant species, 15-20% of which are endemic. Protecting this rich plant biodiversity is vital to safeguarding ecosystem services and the economy of this largely rural country. Since 2009, CMEP have been assisting national and international efforts towards biodiversity research and conservation. To date, CMEP work in Afghanistan has involved strategic planning and capacity building.

Afghanistan faces numerous environmental challenges as it emerges from decades of conflict. As a recent signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Afghanistan is committed to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. This includes commitments to in-situ conservation, ex-situ conservation, scientific research and monitoring. Helping to strengthen the national capabilities of developing countries like Afghanistan is an obligation of all Contracting Parties to CBD.

CMEP is working with a range of partners in Afghanistan to assist the implementation of biodiversity conservation, through:

  • Developing an ex situ conservation strategy for the Kabul University Botanical Garden
  • Providing training and support for IUCN Red Listing
  • Implementing a training programme in biodiversity research skills at Kabul University