A case for the nameless – Accelerating plant taxonomy as a tool for conservation, using Indigofera as a case study

ID: 613 / 319

Category: Abstract

Track: Pending

Proposed Symposium Title: A case for the nameless – Accelerating plant taxonomy as a tool for conservation, using Indigofera as a case study


Brian du Preez1,2, Brian D. Schrire3, Leanne L. Dreyer2, Charles H. Stirton1, A. Muthama Muasya1

Affiliations: 1 Bolus Herbarium, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Cape Town, Private Bag X3, Rondebosch, 7701, South Africa. 2 Department of Botany and Zoology, Stellenbosch University, Private Bag X1, Matieland, 7602, South Africa. 3 Honorary Research Associate, Accelerated Taxonomy Department, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 3AB, UK.


The saying that we cannot conserve what we do not know presents one of the greatest dilemmas in the face of a probable sixth mass extinction. While many large and charismatic organisms enjoy substantial conservation efforts in terms of funding and public sentiment, thousands of smaller and lesser-known species face the prospect of extinction out of the public eye. We are for fortunate to have one of the best plant red data lists globally that helps to monitor our more than 20 000 plant species in South Africa. Yet, despite a rich history of plant taxonomy in SA dating back to the 1700’s, many of our plant species remain undescribed and poorly known. Indigofera is an example of a genus that is poorly known and harbors numerous undescribed species. The Greater Cape Floristic Region (GCFR) is home to a diverse assortment of Indigofera species, but the last taxonomic account of these species was done in 1862. I aimed, in my PhD study, to taxonomically revise the genus Indigofera in the GCFR. Following an intensive regime of field sampling and herbarium analyses, I found 55 undescribed Indigofera species in the GCFR, meaning that these 55 species have never received any conservation attention, with some of these species being severely threatened. However, through this study, we now understand and recognize the diversity of Indigofera in the GCFR, and can inform conservation authorities and landowners of the presence of these previously unknown species. The extensive fieldwork conducted during this study has contributed invaluable information that can be used to help conserve these species by identifying past, present and future threats. This study demonstrates the value of taxonomic studies when combined with extensive field sampling, in firstly helping to understand and quantify species diversity, and through that contribute to the subsequent conservation of biodiversity.

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: conservation; Fabaceae; Indigofera; new species; South Africa; taxonomy