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Identifying gaps in the photographic record of the vascular plant flora of the Americas


Field photographs of plant species are crucial for research and conservation, but the lack of a centralized database makes them difficult to locate. We surveyed 25 online databases of field photographs and found that they harboured only about 53% of the approximately 125,000 vascular plant species of the Americas. These results reflect the urgent need for a centralized database that can both integrate and complete the photographic record of the world’s flora.

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Fig. 1: Online and geographic locations of field-photographed plant species of the Americas.

Data availability

There are no restrictions on data availability. All data generated during the research are reported in Supplementary Tables 2–4. The primary sources of data used during the research are given with web links in Supplementary Table 1.


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We thank the thousands of photographers who have contributed photographs to the online resources surveyed in this paper, and the dozens of museums, universities, government agencies that maintain those resources. We thank R. Foster and T. Wachter for initiating the live plant photos and field guides projects at the Field Museum; the Field Museum IT and data management teams, especially S. Grant, K. Webbink, P. Herbst and J. Jones, for their work databasing and sharing the Museum’s field photographs; and N. Hensold for her heroic curation of their constantly evolving taxonomy. The following Field Museum volunteers carried out Google Image searches of individual species: M. Heisley, U. Major, S. Brangman and P. Hu. This publication received support from the Field Museum’s Grainger Bioinformatics Center. We thank the University of Basel, owner of the World Orchid Iconography database, and the Swiss Orchid Foundation, who facilitated its development. F.L.R.F. acknowledges a senior postdoctoral grant from FAPERJ (E-26/201.562/2018—process 236717). R.C.F. was supported by research grants from CNPQ (303420/2016-2) and FAPERJ (E-26/202.778/2018). E.H.S. acknowledges a postdoctoral grant from CAPES (PNPD/UFRB-88882.315208/2019-01).

Author information




N.C.A.P. and T.S. conceived the study. N.C.A.P., T.S., C.U.U., J.M., J.S., J.P., C.F.V., A.D.L., P.B., A.J., M.W.T., J.H.B., J.P.J., K.C.N., B.M.T., M.T., E.E.G., R.C.F., G.Z., F.L.R.F., R.T., F.O.Z., M.J.B., C.A.Z., J.M.d.V., E.L.H.G., C.E.T.P., R.T.d.Q. and K.R. contributed photographic databases. S.P. queried the Flickr database. C.U.U. provided the taxonomic backbone for the analyses. T.S. assembled the master photographic database, standardized the taxonomy of contributed databases and carried out statistical analyses. T.S. supervised the four Field Museum volunteers who assisted in data collection. N.C.A.P. and T.S. wrote the paper. T.S. prepared Fig. 1a. N.C.A.P. prepared Fig. 1b. T.S. prepared the Supplementary Tables. All authors discussed the results and implications of the analyses, commented on the manuscript at all stages and contributed revisions.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nigel C. A. Pitman.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Plants thanks Sabina Leonelli and Pamela Soltis for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Fig. 1 and title and captions for Tables 1–4.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Table 1

The 25 online resources surveyed during this research and 13 other online resources consulted but not surveyed. For all columns, ‘species’ refers to vascular plant species of the Americas (North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean)2.

Supplementary Table 2

Species-by-resource matrix, indicating which vascular plant species of the Americas (North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean)2 are represented in each of the 25 online resources surveyed during this research. Species names are sorted first by the total number of resources containing that species, in descending order and then alphabetically.

Supplementary Table 3

Number of species found for each region of the Americas in 25 surveyed online resources of field photographs of plants and the proportion of regional floras found in each resource. Regions and region data are from Ulloa Ulloa et al.2. Resources are sorted by median number of species in each region, in descending order.

Supplementary Table 4

Number of species per family in each resource, proportion of VPA family diversity in each resource, and number and proportion of species per family not found in any resource. For all columns, ‘species’ refers to vascular plant species of the Americas (North America, South America, Central America and the Caribbean)2.

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Pitman, N.C.A., Suwa, T., Ulloa Ulloa, C. et al. Identifying gaps in the photographic record of the vascular plant flora of the Americas. Nat. Plants 7, 1010–1014 (2021).

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