Researchers issue an urgent appeal to save the world

Photo: A rare glimpse into the interior of the Rafflesia arnoldii hotel. Photo credit: Chris Thorogood.
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Credit: A rare glimpse into the interior of the Rafflesia arnoldii hotel. Photo credit: Chris Thorogood.

Under embargo until 00:01 GMT Wednesday 20 September 2023 / 19:01 ET Tuesday 19 September 2023

  • A new study found that most… Rafflesia The species that produces the world’s largest flowers faces extinction.
  • The lack of protection at local, national and international levels means that the remaining populations are under serious threat.
  • Researchers propose an urgent action plan to save these magnificent flowers, based on local success stories.

An international group of scientists, including botanists at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, have issued an urgent call for coordinated action to save this iconic genus. RafflesiaWhich contains the largest flowers in the world. It follows a new study that found most of the 42 species are critically threatened, yet only one of them is listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Furthermore, more than two-thirds (67%) of plant habitats are unprotected and at risk of destruction.

Rafflesia, one of the greatest botanical mysteries, has aroused the curiosity of scientists for centuries. The plant is a parasite that infects tropical vines in forests across Southeast Asia (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand). For most of its life cycle, Rafflesia Hidden from view, it exists as a system of thread-like threads that invade its host. At unpredictable intervals, the parasite produces a cabbage-like bud that penetrates the bark of the vine and eventually forms a giant five-lobed flower up to a meter across. This produces a foul odor of rotting meat to attract pollinating flies, earning it the alternative name “corpse flower.”

With this elusive life cycle, Rafflesia It is still not well understood, and new species are still being recorded. To better understand the vulnerability of these unique plants, a group of scientists has created the first coordinated global network to assess the threats they face Rafflesia.

The results of the study found that all 42 Rafflesia Species are threatened with extinction: Based on criteria used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, scientists have classified 25 species as “critically endangered,” 15 as “vulnerable,” and two as “vulnerable.”* Furthermore, more than Two-thirds (67%) are unprotected. Through regional or national conservation strategies.

Rafflesia Species’ distributions are often highly restricted, making them particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction. The study found that many remaining populations contain only a few individuals located in unprotected areas and at risk of conversion to agriculture. Since attempts to publish Rafflesia In botanical gardens they have had limited success so far, making habitat conservation an urgent priority.

To combat these threats, researchers recommend doing so all together Rafflesia The species is immediately added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Currently only one is listed: Magnificent Rafflesia.

The team proposes a four-point action plan for governments, research centers and conservation organizations:

  • Greater protection for Rafflesia habitats, targeting the most vulnerable populations. Habitat protection was identified as the single best tool to achieve this Rafflesia Maintain. Southeast Asia has the fastest disappearing forests on the planet, and many of the best known Rafflesia The population is dangerously close to growing human settlements.
  • Better understand the full diversity of Rafflesia existing, to inform the decision-making process. It is believed that Rafflesia Species remain undocumented, while others became extinct before science even knew them. We cannot protect what we do not know exists, so sampling campaigns and genetic analyzes are required to understand the number Rafflesia The species is really there.
  • Develop methods to publish successfully Rafflesia outside their country of origin. These can include vaccination rafflesia-Infected vines over uninfected vines of species whose habitat is likely to be destroyed.
  • Introducing new ecotourism initiatives to involve local communities Rafflesia Maintain. Providing funding and training for local specialist guides would be an effective way to help protect local people Rafflesia Population and increasing awareness of the need to preserve the environment.

Despite the challenges, the study also highlighted valuable success stories that can provide important insights Rafflesia Save elsewhere. For example:

  • Bogor Botanical Garden in West Java, Indonesia has become a center of excellence Rafflesia Reproduction, after a series of successful flowering events, including 16 for this species Rafflesia no. Knowledge exchange activities will help disseminate best practices in areas that urgently need them.
  • In West Sumatra, groups of local villagers are benefiting from this Rafflesia Ecotourism by forming “pokdarwis”: tourism awareness groups linked to social media. Many of these advertise Rafflesia Events are thriving on social media platforms to build population awareness, attract paying tourists, while carefully managing the risks of trampling, for example. These activities can be developed as a model for dissemination in areas where the community is involved Rafflesia Preservation is rare.

Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director of Oxford University Botanic Garden and author of the study, said: “This new study highlights how global conservation efforts directed at plants – however distinctive – have lagged behind those of animals.” We urgently need a common, inter-regional approach to save some of the world’s most iconic flowers, most of which are now on the verge of being lost.

“Indigenous peoples are some of the best custodians of our forests,” said Adrian Tobias, a forester from the Philippines Rafflesia Conservation programs are more likely to succeed if they involve local communities. Rafflesia It has the potential to be a new symbol of conservation in the Asian tropics.

Notes to editors:

For media inquiries and interview requests, contact Dr Chris Thorogood:

The study “Most of the largest flowers in the world (genus Rafflesia) Now on the brink of extinction” will be published in Plants, people, planet 00:01 GMT Wednesday 20 September at To view a copy of the manuscript beforehand, contact Dr. Chris Thorogood:

Series of Rafflesia Images with captions for use with media articles are available at These images can be used if caption and credit are included.

Dr. Chris Thorogood has worked for many years alongside botanists and foresters in Southeast Asia to document the massive and mysterious flowers of… Rafflesia. His new book A forest without a path He tells the story of his journey to study and protect this magnificent plant – a thrilling adventure story and an inspiring call to action to protect a rapidly disappearing wilderness. A forest without a path It is scheduled to be published by Penguin in April 2024.

Researchers from the Botanic Garden at the University of Oxford participated in the study. Department of Biology, University of Oxford; Institute of the Humanities, University of Oxford; University of the Philippines Los Baños; National Research and Innovation Agency of Indonesia (BRIN); Bengkulu University (Indonesia); Forest Research Institute Malaysia; synthetic biology indonesia; Jinbenezia Foundation (Indonesia); Gadjah Mada University (Indonesia).

*Definitions as provided in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species:

  • Endangered: Critically Endangered (Cr) is the most endangered category assigned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for terrestrial species. Critically endangered means that a species’ population has declined, or will decline, by 80% within three generations. It is therefore considered to face a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • endangered: An endangered species (EN) is a group of organisms that are at risk of extinction because they are either few in number, or are threatened by changing environmental parameters or predation. It may also mean that due to deforestation, there may be a shortage of food and/or water. It is therefore considered to face a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • exhibition: Vulnerable species (VU) are species that have been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as likely to become threatened with extinction unless conditions that threaten their survival and reproduction improve. It is therefore considered to face a high risk of extinction in the wild.

About Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Oxford Botanic Garden is the oldest botanic garden in the United Kingdom, founded in 1621. Initially established as a nature garden for growing medicinal plants, the garden continues to hold a unique position in terms of its history and academic position to this day. It was the birthplace of plant science in the United Kingdom and has been a center for plant research since the 17th century.

The mission of the Oxford Botanic Garden is to share the scientific wonders of plants and the importance of plants with the world. It contains a collection of around 5,000 different species of plants, as well as its sister site, Harcourt Arboretum. Some of these species are found nowhere else and are of international conservation importance.

About the University of Oxford

The University of Oxford has been ranked first in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the seventh year in a row, and third in the QS World University Rankings 2024. At the heart of this success are the twin pillars of our pioneering research and innovation and our distinctive teaching offer.

Oxford is world-renowned for excellence in research and teaching, and is home to some of the most talented people from around the world. Our work helps millions of lives and solves real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The broad and interdisciplinary nature of our research combined with our personal approach to teaching spark innovative and innovative insights and solutions.

Through its research commercialization arm, Oxford Innovation University, Oxford is the highest patenting university in the UK and ranks first in the UK for university founding, having created more than 300 new companies since 1988. More than a third of these have been created In the past five years. The University is a catalyst for prosperity in Oxfordshire and the UK, contributing £15.7 billion to the UK economy in 2018/19, and supporting more than 28,000 full-time jobs.

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