Plants, People, Planet (2020-09-01)

New scientific discoveries: Plants and fungi

  • Martin Cheek,
  • Eimear Nic Lughadha,
  • Paul Kirk,
  • Heather Lindon,
  • Julia Carretero,
  • Brian Looney,
  • Brian Douglas,
  • Danny Haelewaters,
  • Ester Gaya,
  • Theo Llewellyn,
  • A. Martyn Ainsworth,
  • Yusufjon Gafforov,
  • Kevin Hyde,
  • Pedro Crous,
  • Mark Hughes,
  • Barnaby E. Walker,
  • Rafaela Campostrini Forzza,
  • Khoon Meng Wong,
  • Tuula Niskanen

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 2, no. 5
pp. 371 – 388


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Societal Impact Statement Research and publication of the planet's remaining plant and fungal species as yet unknown to science is essential if we are to address the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 15 “Life on Land” which includes the protection of terrestrial ecosystems and halting of biodiversity loss. If species are not known to science, they cannot be assessed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and so the possibility to protect them from extinction is reduced. Furthermore, until species are known to science they cannot be fully scientifically evaluated for their potential as new foods, medicines, and products which would help address SDGs 1,2,3, and 8. Summary Scientific discovery, including naming new taxa, is important because without a scientific name, a species is invisible to science and the possibilities of researching its ecology, applications and threats, and conserving it, are greatly reduced. We review new scientific discoveries in the plant and fungal kingdoms, based largely on new names of taxa published in 2019 and indexed in the International Plant Names Index and Index Fungorum. Numbers of new species in both kingdoms were similar with 1942 new species of plant published and 1882 species of fungi. However, while >50% of plant species have likely been discovered, >90% of fungi remain unknown. This gulf likely explains the greater number of higher order taxa for fungi published in 2019: three classes, 18 orders, 48 families and 214 genera versus one new family and 87 new genera for plants. We compare the kingdoms in terms of rates of scientific discovery, globally and in different taxonomic groups and geographic areas, and with regard to the use of DNA in discovery. We review species new to science, especially those of interest to humanity as new products, and also by life‐form. We consider where future such discoveries can be expected. We recommend an urgent increase in investment in scientific discovery of plant and fungal species, while they still survive. Priorities include more investment in training taxonomists, in building and equipping collections‐based research centers for them, especially in species‐rich, income‐poor countries where the bulk of species as yet unknown to science are thought to occur.