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Ariel shot of Honduras landscape.

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Edge Hill research project shows how climate change threatens plant species in Honduras and around the world

September 22, 2022

A team of botanists from Edge Hill University have created the first checklist of over 713 species of Honduran ferns, discovering that at least 130 of them are threatened by climate change.

A team from Edge Hill, led by Dr Sven Batke, has been collaborating with Honduran botanist Johan Reyes-Chávez to create the checklist aimed at supporting conservation and adding to botanical and climate change research.

While the project is only 24 months into its eight-year mission, the flora project has made rapid progress. The team has already made a host of fascinating discoveries that shine a light on the threat climate change poses to plant life.

Dr Sven Batke said: “Ferns are one of the most evolutionarily important and oldest group of plants, having dominated the Earth since the time of the dinosaurs. They exist in many places all over Honduras which has a wide range of ecosystems and climates, from temperate to tropical forests.

“We’ve discovered that climate change is forcing ferns to change locations, moving to cooler areas as the environment warms around them, and that up to 130 of them are at threat of disappearing entirely. Our research reveals that ferns, and potentially many other plants, are struggling to cope with our rapidly changing climate, something that should worry us all.”

A picture of two botanists in Honduras examining plants.

The Honduran Fern Flora team is working to bring together for the first time species information on every species of fern in Honduras, including a genetic barcode data, complete physical collections and details of each fern’s location and unique characteristics.  

This kind of catalogue will be the first of its kind in Honduras. It is hoped that the fern flora will inform conservation projects across Central and South America.

Honduran botanist Johan Reyes-Chávez said: “Ferns and lycophytes are excellent model organisms to investigate the effect of climate change on species niches, due to their high sensitivity to changes in temperature and precipitation.

“Building this flora is vitally important due to the number of fern species that are at threat of extinction owing to a combination of climate change and deforestation destroying fern habitats.”

A picture of a botanist creating a plant record by photographing a fern.

To complete the project, Edge Hill will call on the help of both academics and students who will visit Honduras multiple times over the course of the next eight years. While there they will collect physical samples of all 713 ferns, many of which will be brought back to the UK.

As well as having a physical collection of ferns being stored in Honduras, a second complete collection will be stored in Liverpool’s World Museum in an important collaboration that will help to safeguard the incredible diversity of Honduran ferns for future generations to come.   

The results of the project are detailed in two papers in the Botanical Journal and Plant Ecology Journal.

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September 22, 2022


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