As science progresses, we’re seeing more and more the benefit and need of communicating science beyond academia. If we are truly to rise the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change, real world impact is not just beneficial, it’s a priority. For us at the Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences (DEEP), the study with the most external impact, that is the most mentions outside of academia according to Altmetric, was published in Nature Ecology & Evolution last year and is titled -  Global dataset shows geography and life form predict modern plant extinction and rediscovery, 2019. Compared to the other publications from the department, according to Altmetric, this one has also done particularly well – it's in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric.

This is what the Altmetric score measures for each scientific publication, and this score is particular for the paper "Global dataset shows geography and life form predict modern plant extinction and rediscovery, 2019".

By pointing out the plant extinctions occurring in modern times using the records that had been piling up in the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew outside London, the study was chosen to be part of the 2020 WWF Living Planet Report. This might appear trivial, but it’s actually a big step forward – this is the first-time plants have been specifically discussed in the context of biodiversity loss. Previously it only included vertebrates, focusing mostly birds and mammals. Comparing to the 2018 Living Planet Report, which mentions plants only 36 times, this year plants were mentioned 117 times - almost three times more. The lead author of the Nature Ecology & Evolution study, DEEP Assistant Professor Aelys Humphreys contributed to the chapter on the extinction of plants in the 2020 WWF Living Planet Report, which you can read here. Since animals and plants will always be strongly intertwined, this is a very positive development.

In total, the Nature Ecology & Evolution study was picked up by over 100 news outlets and tweeted nearly 600 times. This was reported by, among many others, Forbes, BBC and CNN. In light of the fact that most papers are only read by a handful of people, this is fantastic. Apart from this, it has 44 scientific citations and we can expect over time that it will get even more.

But why did this study get so much attention? I feel that it taps in to the very essence of what makes life on this earth possible. Biodiversity is not just “nice to have”. Our very wellbeing, and future on this planet is dependent on biodiversity; from health to the very meals we eat every day. Our global economy depends on nature – it provides services worth around 125 trillion USD every year according to an estimation in the WWF Living Planet Report. Maybe this study tapped into the fact that plants are underdogs, and that without them, we will be in trouble. 

The data shown was collected from the profiles of 513 tweeters who shared this research output (data from Altmetric). The darker the blue, the more people tweeted.

In the press release for the study, the researchers at Kew and Stockholm University stated that they hoped that the data from their study would be used to focus conservation efforts on islands and in the tropics, where plant loss is common, and in areas where less is known about plant extinction such as Africa and South America.  If we compare this with the known tweeters of this study (202 out of 514) there was 5 % (in total) that were from Paraguay and 2% from South Africa. Plant Extinction needs to gain more attention there too.

So, rush to see how much your paper has made an impact! And tweet everything you think is of relevance. Let’s help each other getting more informed so we can make good decisions for our beloved planet.

By: Amanda Gonzalez Bengtsson, science communicator at Department of Ecology, Environment and Plant Sciences (DEEP)