After analyzing more than 60% of all Cuban plant species, it is concluded that almost 50% of Cuban plants are endangered by extinction.
Experts from more than 30 Cuban institutions, led by the Cuban Plant Specialist Group (GEPC) of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the National Botanic Garden, University of Havana, just published a monograph entitled “Red List of the flora of Cuba”. This work accounts for approximately 15% of all plant species assessed in the world following the IUCN criteria, and 66.57% of the estimated total species of Cuban plants.
Second of its kind in the country, this new “Red List” and all the supporting documents, increased by 300% the knowledge we have about the conservation status of one of the world’s most diverse island floras and constitutes a baseline for setting priorities for its preservation and sustainable management.
According to Dr. Luis Roberto González Torres, first author of the work and president of IUCN/SSC Cuban Plant Specialist Group: “… in order to define priorities, guidelines and policies for the conservation of these species, the assessment provided by this Red List should be consider in addition to other criteria such as the probability of success of recommended conservation actions, the availability of funding and qualified personnel to undertake such actions and the existence of a legal framework that support the conservation of the target species.”
The Red List of the flora of Cuba compiles assessments for 4627 Cuban plant species. It also provides a general overview of the conservation situation of Cuban plants by regions of the country, vegetation type, protected areas, among other criteria. The publication also includes the abstracts of more than 30 major plant conservation and management projects in Cuba. Three of the projects that stand out for their impact are the National System of Protected Areas, the National Network of Botanical Gardens and Planta! – the Cuban Plant Conservation Initiative. These project summaries will contribute to spread the work done over the last ten years to protect the unique flora of Cuba among decision-makers, researchers and the general public . Hopefully, they will also serve as an inspiration for the creation of new conservation initiatives.
Dra. Maritza Garcia, president of the Cuban Environmental Agency stated in the preface of this monograph that “… the Red List proves the scientific potential of Cuba and the growing concern of Cuban institutions, government and people for the conservation of its natural resources, especially the Cuban valuable flora. We can proudly claim that Cuba has managed to assess the conservation situation of more than 66% of our plants and that we are on track to successful fulfill the “Aichi Biodiversity Target” of the Convention on Biological Diversity”. “It is gratifying to realize that national institutions, government and non-governmental organizations, regional and international projects, academics and plant lovers, professionals, amateurs and several generations of Cubans, combined efforts towards the preservation of our national heritage” , says the president of the Cuban Environmental Agency of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.
The MSc. Alejandro Palmarola, president of the Cuban Botanical Society, one of the organizations involved on the Red List stated: “The Cuban archipelago has a unique flora, with an estimated of 7 000 to 7 500 species, which makes it the four richest island territory worldwide plant wise, and the first island in number of plant species per kilometre square. Moreover, the Cuban flora has about 53% of plants unique to the country.”
The real dimension of the impact of the loss of plant diversity on our civilization and ecosystems is not fully understood. Globally, one species of plant in five is threatened of extinction and around two thousand plant species become extinct annually in the tropics and subtropics. This situation is known to be significant given the critical role of plants for maintenance of life on the planet and human existence in particular. Under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), of which Cuba is a signatory, countries committed to address in a participatory manner the causes of species loss. Governments commitments include to reduce direct pressure on biodiversity and promote its sustainable use, improve the protection of genes, species and ecosystems so that the benefits we receive from biodiversity increases. In line with the CBD, Cuba is proposed to assess the conservation status of 80% of its known plant species by 2020, and in this direction, the Red List is a major milestone.
The assessments of the conservation situation of plant species has been the main task of the Cuban Plant Specialist Group (GEPC) since its inception in 2003. The publication of the Red List represents the culmination of 10 years of intensive work of GEPC members and collaborators. The process of compiling and editing the Red List has been supported by many specialists, and students from the Faculty of Biology, University of Havana. The Red List project had the support of the National Botanic Garden, the Cuban Environmental Agency, the National Centre for Protected Areas, the Cuban Botanical Society, Planta!, the Whitley Fund for Nature, the MBZ Species Conservation Fund, and the project “Connecting Landscapes”, executed by the Institute of Ecology and Systematics (AMA / CITMA) with support from the GEF / UNDP.