11.6: Thoughts on Neglected Taxa
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Most of today’s species-centric conservation initiatives are biased towards species that are showy, charismatic, or economically important. Consequently, conservation efforts for the vast majority of taxa are neglected, particularly in Africa where conservation funding is often more limited than elsewhere. One well-known example is known as plant blindness, the perception that animals take precedence above plants in conservation efforts. This isn’t just a case of hurt feelings among botanists: there are likely significantly more plant than animal species that should be considered as threatened (see Table 2.1); however, thorough threat assessments are hampered because, as a group, plants receive significantly less funding compared to animals (Negron-Ortiz, 2014). One explanation for this disparity is that plants are often seen as the backdrop of the environment rather than the critical foundation (as primary producers) of every food web on Earth. While showy plant species may indeed have highly visible roles in maintaining the environment and regional economies, neglected species may play an equally—sometimes even more—important role in maintaining ecosystems and ecosystem services (Schleuning et al., 2016).
Fortunately, the number of professional and amateur societies interested in protecting neglected taxa, such as reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, fungi, and plants are rising. Some groups of experts are also organised into Specialist Groups (https://www.iucn.org/ssc-groups) by the IUCN. These societies and expert groups highlight the plight of neglected taxa and are willing to provide in-house expertise on best practices for protecting those species.