People are becoming “disconnected from the botanical world” at a time when plants could help solve global environmental problems, warns a group of researchers.
In a scientific article published today (07/11) in the journal Ecology and Evolution, they say the problem has been exacerbated by schools and universities across the UK reducing their teaching of basic plant science, including plant identification and ecology.
They describe a self-accelerating cycle that risks “…the extinction of botanical education”, where biology is taught primarily by people with research interests in animal science.
One of the authors claims that postgraduate students who start master’s courses in biological sciences lack basic plant identification skills.
An analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveals that botany, once a compulsory component of many university biology degrees and school curricula, is “..now virtually non-existent in the UK”.
Between 2007 and 2019, only one student graduated in botanical sciences for 185 students in other bioscience disciplines.
In schools, the biology curriculum focused on energy flows through plant communities, plant reproduction, and plant anatomy with little time devoted to ecology and no time to plant development. plant identification skills.
Seb Stroud, PhD researcher at the Hassell Lab based in the School of Biology at the University of Leeds and lead author of the study, said: “The result of the decline in botany education is reduced awareness of plants among the public and professionals. look alike.
“The result is that we are seeing environmental projects that are not only ineffective, but compounding environmental problems. Harnessed properly, there is no doubt that plants could provide solutions to the looming climate and ecological crises of the 21st century.
“We ignore the opportunities the botanical world offers us at our peril.”
The article – Extinction of Botanical Education and the Fall of Plant Awareness – cites examples where a shortage of basic botanical skills is hampering environmental improvements, such as inappropriate planting of trees on bogs which can result in a increased CO2 emissions by damaging these delicate plants. habitats. In addition, there have been various incidents where valuable wildflower meadows have been threatened by careless tree planting or management.
The Scottish Government has highlighted the lack of skilled labor to implement nature-based solutions and argues that ‘knowledge of nature’ must become a core skill for various professionals, from planners, engineers, architects and educators, as well as farmers, foresters and fishermen.
The researchers also argue that the lack of ability to correctly identify plants could exacerbate the problem of the spread of invasive non-native plants. In the United States, for example, studies show that nearly two-thirds of species listed as invasive remain for sale.
To reverse the decline of botanical education, the researchers call for an assessment of botanical education worldwide and an analysis of skills gaps among scientists and professionals in the environmental and plant sectors.
They also call for a plant awareness campaign in higher education and among the public to educate and engage people about plants.
In their conclusion, the research team notes, “The extinction of botanical education will only get worse unless we break the cycle of disconnecting the botanical world.
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Material provided by University of Leeds. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.