There are an estimated 350,500 species of plants on Earth, with perhaps some 10 percent more yet to be discovered. These plants, both known and unknown, may hold answers to many of the world’s health, social, environmental, and economic challenges. A full inventory of plant life is essential if the many threatened species are to be protected and if their full potential is to be realised before many of them, and the possibilities they offer, become extinct.
The need for an ‘online flora of all known plants’ was set as Target 1 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, 2010-2020. In January 2012 representatives from the Missouri Botanical Garden, New York Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew met to discuss how to achieve such an ambitious goal. The result was an outline of the scope and content of an online world flora, and the decision to form an international consortium to collaborate on providing its content. The World Flora Online project was launched in October 2012, and in January 2013 a Memorandum of Understanding was opened for signatures. By November 2020, 44 institutions and organisations had signed the MOU.
The World Flora Online is a massive, collaborative, international project. It represents a major step forward in developing a consolidated global information service on the world’s flora. It is also a major step forward in uniting a broad group of botanists and informaticians to work together on a project that could not have been accomplished until now with modern informatics technologies. The project has been an exemplary global botanical community effort. While substantial progress has been made, there is much more to be done, which is why the International Association for Plant Taxonomy has joined the WFO Consortium.
The IAPT Council believes that the WFO is an important and potentially transformative project. The IAPT, with its large and diverse international membership, is well positioned to help the WFO by encouraging botanists of all backgrounds to participate in this important effort. Botanists with expertise in a particular plant family can contribute through one of the Taxonomic Expert Networks (TENs) or form a TEN if one has not yet been established for their group. Taxonomists can also contribute their flora treatments, monographs, and taxonomic publications to the content of the WFO. Those with an informatics background could help with technical aspects of the project.
IAPT members benefit from contributing to WFO through greater exposure and influence of their work. Data contributed to WFO will be widely accessible to the taxonomic community, increasing citation and use. Additionally, contributing to WFO is now being viewed as a favourable broader impact for taxonomic research proposals.
All WFO Consortium members are members of the WFO Council, which has three working groups: the Technical Working Group (involved in the management of the web portal and the data), the Taxonomic Working Group (in charge of the taxonomic backbone and content), and the Communications Working Group (which focuses on disseminating WFO’s activities). The WFO Council engages existing Taxonomic Expert Networks to advise on the content for particular plant groups, and also fosters the development of TENs where none exist at present.
How can I contribute?
Contribute to the WFO taxonomic backbone via a Taxonomic Expert Network (TEN)
The WFO Consortium welcomes the global botanical community to create and/or join the Taxonomic Expert Networks (TENs) to help improve the WFO taxonomic backbone and curate a global consensus classification. The WFO Taxonomic Backbone will include all effectively published plant names, with every name being assigned a unique WFO identifier, regardless of its taxonomic and nomenclatural status. A single classification of taxon names and their synonyms is built using the Taxonomic Backbone so that descriptions, images, geographic distributions and other content can be attached.
Existing TEN’s are listed here (http://about.worldfloraonline.org/tens.shtml). Some examples of large groups that still need a TEN to be formed are Clusiaceae, Loranthaceae, Papaveraceae, Plantaginaceae, Rosaceae. If a TEN is not listed for your taxonomic group, you can contact the WFO Taxonomic Working Group to discuss creation of a new TEN by sending an email to email@example.com.
All contributions to the WFO will be credited to the author, with a link to the source (if digital) or bibliographic reference. For descriptive data there is a statement about the applicable license for reuse of the descriptive content. WFO provides the mechanism and venue for taxonomists to put their knowledge into the hands of the people who need it, and to curate the taxonomic backbone that provides the global consensus classification needed by users and students.
Provide descriptive content (flora, digital flora linking, monographs)
The goal of the WFO is to provide a correct name and taxonomic position for each species, as well as descriptive information in the form of descriptions, illustrations, photographic images, etc. A complete WFO record for a species could include these data elements:
Family and ordinal placement
Literature citation for original description
Taxonomic Status (accepted, synonym, etc.)
Description (with citation of source of description); there may be multiple descriptions in multiple languages, especially for widely distributed species
Conservation status, based on IUCN criteria
Links to external internet resources
Links to data providers and accreditation
WFO also seeks to include national-level distribution, habit and habitat, vernacular names, and identification keys as they become available.
Contact the WFO Taxonomic Working Group to discuss the contribution of descriptive content (firstname.lastname@example.org).
How can my institution contribute?
Join the WFO Consortium
Interested organizations or institutions that wish to participate in and contribute to the achievement of the World Flora Online project are welcome to apply for membership of the WFO Consortium. There is no cost involved in becoming a member. Please contact the WFO Secretariat (email@example.com) to request a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding that all WFO Consortium participants sign to become members.
Partnership with the World Flora Online
The IAPT has become a member of the World Flora Online Consortium (WFO, worldfloraonline.org). The WFO is an international initiative to provide an overview and gateway to the world’s diversity of plant species (see the 'how to contribute' section below). WFO is an open-access, Web-based compendium that builds on existing knowledge and published floras, checklists and revisions. WFO also highlights where new information is needed, for example on poorly known groups and unexplored regions, stimulating research and collaborations to fill those knowledge gaps. The WFO serves the needs of a diverse range of users including conservationist and other applied biologists needing an authoritative list of plants and descriptive data drawn from floras and monographs around the world. It is an essential tool for conservation planners, policymakers and practitioners at all levels.