World Flora Online
There are estimated to be 400,000 species of vascular plants on Earth, with 70,000 more yet to be discovered. The World Flora Online is the first online Flora of all known plants.
- There are an estimated 400,000 species of vascular plants on Earth, with 70,000 more yet to be discovered
- The World Flora Online will be the first online Flora of all known plants
Plants are the foundation of all life on earth and central to human existence, providing food, oxygen, and medicines, cycling water and storing carbon. Forty percent of the world’s plants species are estimated to be threatened with extinction.
An online flora providing comprehensive and authoritative baseline knowledge on all known plants has long been recognised as a key tool for botanical research, conservation policy and practice, and the sustainable use of plant resources. In fact, creating an online flora was the first target of the CBD’s Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) 2011-2020.
By 2020, Target 1 was the only GSPC Target reported to be on fully track at both national and international levels. This success is down to the World Flora Online (WFO) – the first comprehensive global access point for information on plant species.
The WFO comprises two fundamental parts: a taxonomic backbone, and descriptive content. The taxonomic backbone is a regularly-updated, dynamic hierarchical list of all plant names and their relationships to one another, showing how species are classified within higher groups, and linking synonymous names under the correct current name. Content – which is linked to the backbone – includes everything we know about each plant species: its description, distribution, uses, threats, images, maps, and genetic information, all credited and linked to original sources.
The WFO is unique among other global lists of plants as it represents a coordinated international effort bringing together more than 45 institutions, from Argentina to New Zealand, South Korea to Spain. Both backbone and content are actively managed and updated by a community of expert specialists organised in Taxonomic Expert Networks – ‘TENs’. This transparent, science-based and content-driven framework, with all data linking back to primary sources, is considered most suitable for universal adoption, and is crucial to providing full accessibility to the increasing range of plant-related data and databases, facilitating useability for conservation policy and practice.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh direct contribution to the WFO is providing the Taxonomic Expert Network Manager who develops the network of TENs and coordinates the input of taxonomic data. Since the start of 2022 RBGE has also been responsible for directly hosting and managing the Taxonomic Backbone data for the WFO. To do this RBGE biodiversity informatics have developed a bespoke management system Rhakhis - from the Greek for spine or backbone.
Staff at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh also coordinate and contribute taxonomic data through the following TENs:
Conifers – (Araucariaceae, Cupressaceae, Ginkgoaceae, Pinaceae, Podocarpaceae, Sciadopityaceae and Taxaceae.)
Papaveraceae, Tribe Papavereae
The World Flora Online may be found at www.worldfloraonline.org. The WFO Plant List can be accessed at www.wfoplantlist.org.
Any organization or institution is welcome to join the WFO Consortium. Individual scientists may also contribute data to the WFO via the relevant TEN. Inquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A comprehensive explanation of the World Flora Online project can be found in Borsch, T. et al. 2020. World Flora Online: Placing taxonomists at the heart of a definitive and comprehensive global resource on the world's plants. Taxon 69(6): 1311—1341. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12373
A brief explanation of the recent update to the World Flora Online can be found in WFO Team. 2021. World Flora Online gets a New Look, a major data update, and launches the WFO plant list. Taxon 70(6): 1418—1419. https://doi.org/10.1002/tax.12557
Key contact: Dr Mark Watson
The World Flora Online is a consortium of more than 45 botanical research institutions from all over the world