Researchers compile new taxonomic list of vascular plants

A group of scientists from Leipzig University (UL) and the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) has compiled the most extensive list of familiar plant species in the world.

Researchers compile new taxonomic list of vascular plants
Leipzig is host to the oldest botanical garden in Germany. On an area of only three hectares, around 6500 of the 350,000 plant species worldwide grow here. Image Credit: Swen Reichhold.

The list includes 1,315,562 names of vascular plants, thereby increasing the number of identified plant species and subspecies by around 70,000—equivalent to approximately 20%

Besides, the team has successfully clarified a total of 181,000 previously indistinct species names. This data set has been recently published in the Scientific Data journal, marking the culmination of over a decade of intensive study and could help make Leipzig a top international hub of plant biodiversity research.

Similar to how Greenwich meant for world time until 1972, Leipzig could mean the future of plant taxonomy—it could turn out to be the reference city for precise names of scientific plants. In an excellent feat of study, Dr Martin Freiberg—the curator of the Botanical Garden of Leipzig University—and collaborators from iDiv and UL have successfully compiled what is currently the most complete and largest list of scientific names of all familiar plant species in the world.

The Leipzig Catalogue of Vascular Plants, or LCVP for short, vastly updates and extends the prevailing understanding of naming of plant species, and could substitute The Plant List (TPL)—a catalog established by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London which, to date, has been the most significant reference source for botanists.

In my daily work at the Botanical Garden, I regularly come across species names that are not clear, where existing reference lists have gaps. This always means additional research, which keeps you from doing your actual work and above all limits the reliability of research findings. I wanted to eliminate this obstacle as well as possible.”

Martin Freiberg, Curator of Botanical Garden, Leipzig University

World’s most comprehensive and reliable catalog of plant names

The LCVP, containing a total of 1,315,562 scientific names, is the largest-of-its-kind data set in the world, explaining vascular plants. Freiberg compiled data from accessible applicable databases, then harmonized it, and finally standardized the listed names in accordance with the best possible criteria.

Based on 4500 other research works, Freiberg studied more differences, like synonyms and different spellings. In addition, he added scores of new species to the current lists—species recognized in the recent past, primarily due to the rapid progress made in molecular genetic analysis techniques.

At present, the LCVP includes 351,180 vascular plant species and a total of 6160 natural hybrids across 13,460 genera, 564 families, and 84 orders. Moreover, it lists all the synonyms and gives additional taxonomic details. This implies that the LCVP includes more than 70,000 more species and subspecies when compared to TPL—the most significant reference work so far.

According to Freiberg, since 2013, the latter has not been updated, rendering it an increasingly outdated tool for use in studies.

The catalogue will help considerably in ensuring that researchers all over the world refer to the same species when they use a name. Originally, he had intended his data set for internal use in Leipzig. “But then many colleagues from other botanical gardens in Germany urged me to make the work available to everyone.”

Martin Freiberg, Botanical Garden, Leipzig University

LCVP vastly expands global knowledge of plant diversity

According to Dr Marten Winter from iDiv, “Almost every field in plant research depends on reliably naming species.”

Modern science often means combining data sets from different sources. We need to know exactly which species people refer to, so as not to compare apples and oranges or to erroneously lump different species,” he added.

Dr Winter further added that using the LCVP as a reference will currently provide scientists with a relatively higher degree of certainty and minimize confusion. And this will also improve the reliability of research outcomes.

Working alone, Martin Freiberg has achieved something truly incredible here. This work has been a mammoth task, and with the LCVP he has rendered an invaluable service to plant research worldwide. I am also pleased that our colleagues from iDiv, with their expertise in biodiversity informatics, were able to make a significant contribution to this work.”

Christian Wirth, Study Co-Author and Professor, Leipzig University

Wirth is also the director of the Botanical Garden.

Source:
Journal reference:

Freiberg, M., et al. (2020) LCVP, The Leipzig catalogue of vascular plants, a new taxonomic reference list for all known vascular plants. Scientific Data. doi.org/10.1038/s41597-020-00702-z.

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