Sandra Lavorel promoted the creation a vast catalog of plants. There are currently more than 200,000, and they’re growing. To identify patterns of biodiversity, she measures the traits of each plant, including its height, shape, type, and size of its leaves . To be able to understand the effects of climate change and to find mitigation strategies, it is necessary to link these traits with their functions in the ecosystem. He is assisted by Sandra Diaz and Mark Westoby, two other biologists with whom he shared BBVA Foundation’s Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the category of Ecology & Conservation Biology. There are also a lot of biologists who use the catalog to feed their research. Because of the difficulty of setting it up and getting other colleagues to use their data, the database is called TRY (try in English).

– Can you please explain how your so-called trait ecology can be used to conserve biodiversity?

These traits allow us to show how it is possible to determine the behavior of these plants in their ecosystem as well as the climate. It is difficult to find and catalogue all the species in the Amazon rainforest. This would cost thousands of dollars and take hundreds of years. However, if we have basic characteristics, such as the features of their trees, we can determine the function they serve, making it easier to assess these forests.

It states that certain plants are pollinated only by certain insects. This is based on the physical characteristics of each. If these insects are gone (and they are), then those plants will also be gone. What could we do to use their knowledge to stop it?

– Some plants are dependent on specific insects for pollination. This is due to their morphology, which may lead to them not reproducing or dying. Understanding the relationship between plants and insects allows us to understand their significance and how we can protect them and help fight pesticides.

We will need to adapt to changes, not only reduce CO2 emissions.

– We don’t realize that we need to adapt in our everyday lives. The fires, floods and water shortages that are coming up do not directly affect us every day. It’s easier for people to adapt locally than it is to do so globally. Because adaptation can take many forms, each small movement can lead to larger changes. Modifying our consumption habits is not only beneficial for the planet but also benefits us every day.

Who is to blame for the extermination of plants?

I don’t blame them, but habitat destruction is the main cause of the current crisis. The other causes include pollution, the arrival of invasive species and people who colonize new areas or take certain species to their medical value. All of this interacts with climate change. Although it has not yet contributed to an extinction, it will.

Many viruses are transmitted by the loss of biodiversity and, more specifically, vegetation due to deforestation.

– Diseases can be transmitted when animals’ habitats are lost or moved to more populated areas. People also take exotic animals home. A little-known fact is that many diseases that have claimed the lives of many people were created when humans began to domesticate the animals we know and love.

– Are plants the most effective element to sequester CO2 in the environment?

There is no magic formula. They play an important role in ocean life, along with many other algae and carbon sequestered in coral reefs. However, soil biota and other organisms also play a role. It is impossible for plants to do this all on their own. It is unlikely that plants will be able to do this alone, considering the speed at which we have to find solutions. Other technology-based systems are needed.

– Do you think that plants feel a lot more connected than they do with other people? That they can scream when they are hurt or communicate with one another?

Although I don’t know much about them, I do know that they release or emit chemical substances to communicate with one another. They have underground roots that are interconnected to transmit stress signals and information.