NEWS | Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness”

Following an expert workshop on plant blindness and IWT, Margulies and colleagues identified four key challenges

A new paper has just been released from Jared Margulies et al. (2019) – Illegal wildlife trade and the persistence of “plant blindness” in Plants, People, Planet. In an expert workshop on plant blindness and IWT, Margulies and colleagues identified four key challenges:

First, meaningful interest in plant conservation must be generated among policymakers and other stakeholders;

Second, systems are needed for reliable, rapid identification of illegally traded plants;

Third, funding should be allocated specifically for studying IWT in the context of plants;

And fourth, researchers must thoroughly and accurately assess the impact of illegal plant trading.

A wide variety of plant species are threatened by illegal wildlife trade (IWT), and yet plants receive scant attention in IWT policy and research, a matter of pressing global concern. This review examines how “plant blindness” manifests within policy and research on IWT, with serious and detrimental effects for biodiversity conservation. We suggest several key points: (a) perhaps with the exception of the illegal timber market, plants are overlooked in IWT policy and research; (b) there is insufficient attention from funding agencies to the presence and persistence of illegal trade in plants; and (c) these absences are at least in part resultant from plant blindness as codified in governmental laws defining the meaning of “wildlife.”

Summary

This review investigates the ways in which “plant blindness,” first described by Wandersee and Schussler (1999, p. 82) as “the misguided anthropocentric ranking of plants as inferior to animals,” intersects with the contemporary boom in research and policy on illegal wildlife trade (IWT). We argue that plants have been largely ignored within this emerging conservation arena, with serious and detrimental effects for biodiversity conservation. With the exception of the illegal trade in timber, we show that plants are absent from much emerging scholarship, and receive scant attention by US and UK funding agencies often driving global efforts to address illegal wildlife trade, despite the high levels of threat many plants face. Our article concludes by discussing current challenges posed by plant blindness in IWT policy and research, but also suggests reasons for cautious optimism in addressing this critical issue for plant conservation.

 

Brandon Keim writes about this paper in Anthropocene magazine.