RAINBIO: a mega database improves knowledge on distribution of vascular plants in tropical Africa

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Last November, PhytoKeys published an exciting paper on the launch of the first-of-its kind RAINBIO mega database of tropical African vascular plant distributions.

The publication is part of the RAINBIO project (African RAIN forest community dynamics: implications for tropical BIOdiversity conservation and climate change mitigation, http://rainbio.cesab.org) funded by CESAB (CEntre de Synthèse et d’Analyse sur la Biodiversité) of the FRB (Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité, France). Making use of the innovative data paper format, offered by most Pensoft journals, the project announced is key product – a state-of-the-art high quality mega database of vascular plant species distribution across tropical Africa.

The RAINBIO mega database is a response to the limited knowledge of plant species distribution patterns when it comes to the tropical vegetation of Africa. Africa’s vegetation is characterised by high levels of species diversity. However, it is now undergoing important shifts in response to the challenges of ongoing climate change and increasing anthropogenic pressures. To better foster conservation and preservation of ecosystems, basic knowledge about plant species distribution is an important prerequisite.

To compile a comprehensive collection of data, RAINBIO merged large publicly available datasets, in combination with smaller private databases, resulting in a mega database containing 609,776 unique georeferenced records allowing the exploration and extraction of distributional data for 22,577 plant species across continental tropical Africa.

After announcing the database with us at the end of last year, the project published a companion research article providing a state-of-the-art synthesis about our understanding of vascular plant distribution across tropical Africa. The paper, published in BMC Biology concludes that botanical exploration of tropical Africa is far from complete, stressing the importance of continued field inventories and herbarium digitization of past collections.

Analysing this unique dataset provides some important insights into African biodiversity. For example, the observed number of tree species for African forests was smaller than those estimated from global tree data, suggesting that a significant number of species are yet to be discovered. The article also contains a comprehensive list of the total number of plant species for 31 countries across tropical Africa.

The data compiled in the RAINBIO database provides a solid basis for a more sustainable management and improved conservation of tropical Africa’s unique flora, and is important for achieving Objective 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011–2020.

Original Sources:

Dauby G, et al. (2016) RAINBIO: a mega-database of tropical African vascular plants distributions. PhytoKeys 74: 1-18. https://doi.org/10.3897/phytokeys.74.9723

Sosef M S M, et al. (2016) Exploring the floristic diversity of tropical Africa. BMC Biology 15:15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12915-017-0356-8

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