Endangered plants in Iran


Adel Jalili, Ziba Jamzad, S. C. Shaw, A. A. Maassoumi, U. Assri, N. Mazhari & A. Rahmanpour Red Data book of Iran: a preliminary survey of endemic, rare and endangered plant species in Iran By . vi  +  748 pages. Tehran, Iran : Research Institute of Forests and Rangelands (RIFR) , 1999 . $US 100.00 (Iran: 85000R) . ISBN 964 473061 5 . (Available from: Koeltz Scientific Books (E-mail: Koeltz@t-online.de)

With the increase of interest in biodiversity and the growing realization of the need for conservation, Red Data books are now the order of the day. This is the first covering plants in Iran, and represents extensive work over the last 5 yr or so pat-funded by the UK Darwin Initiative for the Survival of Species.

The flora of Iran is a surprisingly rich one, comprising some 8000 species of seed plants and 150 families, already well documented by the ongoing Flora Iranica (edited for many years by the late K. H. Rechinger). Of more than 2400 taxa listed here, believed native, 1727 are classed as endemics, belonging to 85 families. Phytogeographically, the large, central, Irano-Turanian region is by far the richest in flora and contains nearly 85% of the Iranian endemics. The much smaller, wetter and more northerly Euxino-Hyrcanian Province of the Euro-Siberian region, bordering the Caspian Sea, also contains a high number of endemics per unit area, giving the forest types a distinctive character. By contrast, the very dry and hot Saharo-Sindian region, adjoining the Persian Gulf, has a more limited flora and is relatively unimportant as a centre for speciation.

For this pioneer Red Data book, information was appropriately gathered from field surveys and herbarium specimens. Four categories of plants are recognized: endangered, vulnerable, lower-risk and data-deficient. A wisely cautious approach being adopted in the first years of this study, extinct and critically endangered species are not included. The most important criterion for classifying the taxa was limited geographical distribution, but biological limitation and human impact were also taken into account (it is estimated that 32% of the vulnerable and endangered species are grazed or harvested for medicinal or other purposes). Much work remains to be done, as many of the entries are in the data-deficient category, and many localities are given in only very broad terms. A map showing the provinces is helpful but does not indicate altitude, an important consideration in the case of many endemics.

Tables indicating the families of the listed taxa, and the phytogeographical regions and provinces in which they are found, are helpful, particularly in the case of endemic plants, there being no fewer than 20 endemic monotypic genera in Iran, mainly in the Cruciferae (Brassicaceae) and the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae). However, the bulk of the book is devoted to entries for the individual taxa, giving status, life form, distribution (almost always the longest) and habitat. The importance of conservation of the habitats themselves is recognized, but they are only very briefly described. The colour figures, consisting of illustrations by three artists and a few photographs, are attractive features of the book: the illustrations of several endemic crucifers and umbellifers are particularly good.

Although about 20% of the Iranian flora are annuals (a high proportion in terms of the world flora) only 6.7% of the endemics are annuals, and there are only seven endemic tree species. The vast bulk of the endemics are herbaceous perennials, considered a relatively vulnerable life form. Outstanding in the flora is the genus Astragalus, with about 1000 species in the Flora Iranica region (Podlech, 1999). Almost 400 species are listed here, most found in mountainous areas in the Irano-Turanian region, arguably the major centre in the world for speciation of this huge genus. Other genera with many endemics in Iran include Nepeta, Acantholimon and Cousinia, this composite being represented by more than 200 spiny species, about three quarters of them endemics, found mainly in the dry parts of Iran. Interestingly, plants familiar in the British Isles, listed here in the lower-risk category, include Daphne mezereum, several orchids (e.g. Anacamptis pyramidalis, Epipactis palustris), a number of grasses (e.g. Milium effusum, Phleum bertolonii), and the aquatic Zostera noltii, classed as vulnerable.

Red Data book of Iran presents a wealth of information about the occurrence of the less common and rare plants: this provides a foundation for grid-mapping and identifying the areas where data are lacking. One would also like to know much more about the communities containing these species and also of the particular threats to the rarities. This is an important reference work, well worthy of a place in the bookshelves of anyone interested in plant conservation and distribution.