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Implications for conservation assessment from flux in the botanical record over 20 years in southwest Ghana.

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Marshall, Cicely AM  ORCID logo
Dabo, Jonathan 
Mensah, Markfred 
Ekpe, Patrick 
Hawthorne, William D 


At best, conservation decisions can only be made using the data available at the time. For plants and especially in the tropics, natural history collections remain the best available baseline information upon which to base conservation assessments, in spite of well-documented limitations in their taxonomic, geographic, and temporal coverage. We explore the extent to which changes to the plant biological record over 20 years have changed our conception of the conservation importance of 931 plant taxa, and 114 vegetation samples, recorded in forest reserves of the southwest Ghana biodiversity hotspot. 36% of species-level assessments changed as a result of new distribution data. 12% of species accepted in 2016 had no assessment in 1996: of those, 20% are new species publications, 60% are new records for SW Ghana, and 20% are taxonomic resolutions. Apparent species ranges have increased over time as new records are made, but new species publications are overwhelmingly of globally rare species, keeping the balance of perceived rarity in the flora constant over 20 years. Thus, in spite of considerable flux at the species record level, range size rarity scores calculated for 114 vegetation samples of the reserves in 1996 and 2016 are highly correlated with each other: r(112) = 0.84, p < .0005, and showed no difference in mean score over 20 years: paired t(113) = -0.482, p = .631. This consistency in results at the area level allows for worthwhile conservation priority setting over time, and we argue is the better course of action than taking no action at all.


Funder: Clarendon Fund; Id:

Funder: King's College Cambridge, University of Cambridge; Id:

Funder: Merton College, University of Oxford; Id:

Funder: Overseas Development Institute; Id:

Funder: Oxford University Expeditions Council


conservation, endemism, global plant inventory, species discovery, taxonomy, tropical biodiversity

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Ecol Evol

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