To map and protect: Microsoft's bid to save at-risk plant life

To map and protect: Microsoft's bid to save at-risk plant life

This week, Microsoft Research, in partnership with researchers from Duke University and North Carolina State University, announced findings that will help determine how to conserve the greatest number of plant species possible by protecting small landmasses. Study results affirmed the possibility of achieving two of the most ambitious goals from the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity: to protect 60 percent of Earth’s plant species by helping protect 17 percent of its land surface.

This research is exactly the type of value that we hope technology will add to society’s understanding of our world.

Central to the project was the use of modern methods in conservation science. One tool the researchers used, ThePlantList.org, is a working list of all known plant species in the world. Capitalizing on the knowledge of taxonomic specialists worldwide, the Plant List presents a consensus view of up-to-date information about plant species.

Researchers relied on computer algorithms to identify the most diverse regions of life on earth and focused on species endemic to small geographic areas which are most at risk. Certain areas of the planet, including the Caribbean, Central America and regions of Africa, have higher concentrations of endemic species than others, which means that conservation efforts in those locations can have a far-reaching impact.

This research effort recalls an earlier project in Microsoft Research to create a computer model which mimics variations in the planet’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems, deepening our understanding of the planet and guiding policymakers in their efforts to conserve animal life. With this project Microsoft is turning its attention from animals to plants and drawing on the power of technology to accelerate research breakthroughs that address environmental challenges.

Perhaps the most exciting part of this work is that it shows that goals to protect much of the planet’s biodiversity are attainable if we are able to appropriately leverage information, computation and research to better understand opportunities to approach sustainability in new and innovative ways.

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