Australian Network for Plant Conservation

Mark Richardson and Lyn Meredith

Australian National Botanic Gardens
P.O.Box 1777, Canberra, Australia

Abstract

At the 2nd International Botanic Conservation Congress held in Réunion in 1989, a paper entitled 'Towards an Australian Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat' was presented. Since then a national conference has been held in Australia and the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC) has been established.

The membership of the ANPC not only includes botanic gardens but also many other organisations and groups involved in the growing of Australia's plants. These include universities, national park services, zoological gardens, local councils and community groups. Already the ANPC has over 90 members.

The major project at present is the National Endangered Species Collection and an associated index of conservation activities. The ANPC's national office is now developing a database for this project, as well as being involved in the production of a quarterly newsletter, the implementation of a recovery plan and the organisation of a training course. Over the next year it is intended that a comprehensive action plan will be developed for the ANPC.

The ANPC has also already started to develop a regional role, having provided input for the development of similar co-operative efforts in both New Zealand and Indonesia.

Introduction

The development of national plant conservation networks represents a natural evolutionary stage in our efforts to conserve plants (Falk 1992), with the effectiveness and credibility of plant conservation in any country being most commonly threatened by duplication of effort and poor use of resources. Without such networking, single organisations or individuals may assume that it is their role to achieve everything or even some of the work, totally unaided.

Individual botanic gardens have long operated in relative isolation, concentrating their efforts in a somewhat self centred manner. While this is acceptable for many botanic gardens activities, it does not cater well for the needs of plant conservation (Richardson 1992).

In Australia the interest in our native flora has increased considerably in the last two and a half decades. This has been reflected not only in the greater use of native plants in botanic gardens and horticulture generally, but also by political policy at both the state and national levels. Similar national interests in New Zealand and Indonesia are leading them to the same conclusion.

In the paper 'Towards an Australian Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat', presented by Lyn Meredith at the Réunion Congress in 1989, we outlined the background to a co ordinated plan for the ex situ conservation of rare or threatened plants in Australia (Meredith and Richardson 1991). We reported on a survey taken in 1987 to establish what species were in cultivation in Australia's botanic gardens and what research, if any, was being conducted on Australian threatened plants (Meredith and Richardson 1990). We reported that one of the recommendations attached to the survey was that an Australian 'secretariat' should be set up to better co ordinate ex situ plant conservation. It was further recommended that a conference be held to discuss the way in which that 'secretariat' could be set up.

The 1991 Canberra Conference

The Conference, which was held in Canberra in March 1991, originally targeted ex situ plant conservation organisations.

The title 'Protective Custody? Ex situ Conservation in Australasia' was taken from the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy which states that 'The purpose of ex situ conservation is to provide protective custody. It is justifiable only as part of an overall conservation strategy to ensure that a species ultimates survives in the wild. Its role should be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself ' (BGCS 1989). Considering this, together with the knowledge that many 'ex situ' organisations were in fact also involved in in situ activities, we were prompted to broaden our approach and promote 'integrated plant conservation' (Falk 1987; 1990).

The participants who attended the conference came from universities, botanic gardens, zoos, the forestry industry, conservation agencies, horticultural organisations, the mining industry and local councils. This wide range reflected the immense interest in the general community in this subject.

From the Conference workshops, a number of preliminary resolutions were presented to the delegates and were accepted in essence (see Appendix). Included in the resolutions was the agreement that there was a need for a coordinating body for all of the organisations involved. With the assistance of Peter Wyse Jackson and Don Falk, the proposal for the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC) was developed (Richardson et al 1991).

Australian Network for Plant Conservation

The aims of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation are to:

  1. Establish a multi site national endangered species collection;
  2. Locate and bring together information concerning integrated conservation activities in Australia;
  3. Assist in the co ordination of plant conservation projects to avoid duplication;
  4. Provide information and advice to ANPC members;
  5. Promote plant conservation;
  6. Organise workshops and training courses; and
  7. Produce a regular newsletter.

The organisational structure of the ANPC is as in Fig.1. Within this structure it is intended that the co ordinating office will perform a catalytic role, with advice regarding policy and general direction coming from the Advisory Committee which represents the wide range of organisations that are members. The national office is located at the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG) and is staffed by both ANBG officers on a part time basis and two people on contract.

The structures of Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Center for Plant Conservation in the USA provided useful initial guidelines. However, the ANPC differs in that its membership is not restricted to botanic gardens. Rather, it includes others, such as national parks, private industry and non government conservation organisations. By including a wide range of membership in such a network, the risk of it being seen as a threat to other major conservation players is reduced. It recognises that industries such as forestry and mining as well as non government organisations must not feel 'locked out' and that the national parks services must not see the work being done by botanic gardens in competition with them (Richardson 1992).

Already there are over 100 members coming from all of the groups that we originally targeted, but with the strongest representation still coming from botanic gardens.

As part of the commitment from each of the ANPC members there is an annual subscription. The fee structure is:

Federal, State or local government agencies, corporations or industry associations:     $200
Other Non profit Organisations: $50
Interested Individuals: $30

Additional funding for the ANPC has come from the Australian Government's Endangered Species Program, which is co ordinated by the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, as well as from donations and sales of publications. A recent suggestion made by an ANPC member is for the promotion of the ANPC through the sale of an endangered plant species, with an amount from each sale being paid to the ANPC. Enquiries are being made with the National Parks Service to obtain their support for this proposal. Such a proposal could be the forerunner of an 'Australian Plants for Conservation' scheme.

National Endangered Species Collection

Of the aims mentioned earlier, we are at present putting our greatest effort into the development of the National Endangered Species Collection.

The purpose of the National Endangered Species Collection will be to:

  1. Provide a resource for integrated conservation activities with in situ conservation organisations (e.g. species recovery plans);
  2. Provide a backstop against extinction in the event of a catastrophic loss of the remaining wild population of a species;
  3. Provide a resource for rare plant research;
  4. Provide a resource for education and interpretative programmes;
  5. Encourage the use of germplasm storage including cryopreservation;
  6. Identify and recognise the holdings of endangered species outside of established botanic gardens and kindred organisations;
  7. Reduce the collecting pressure on wild populations by encouraging the distribution of propagation material with known wild origin among organisations, groups and individuals; and
  8. Introduce species of endangered plants to the nursery trade, where feasible.

Currently we are developing the database for the Collection and gathering some preliminary information concerning the holdings of individual members. Already it is evident that a large proportion of Australia's endangered plant species are in cultivation but we are as yet unsure about the quality of those collections. The ANPC database will focus on the collections of conservationworthy plants in Australian botanic gardens as well as those grown by kindred organisations and interested individuals. The database is being developed using Oracle on a UNIX system, with a PC version for members planned. Attention is being paid to allowing communications with other national and international databases.

The database structural development is being carried out by Dr. Joe Swartz who is on contract with the ANPC, with the data collection and inputting being done by Isobel Crawford, similarly contracted to the ANPC.

Within the Collection emphasis will be placed on those garden collections with detailed wild origin information and herbarium vouchering; however, any recorded holdings of an endangered species will be noted. Sampling strategies (Brown and Briggs 1991) will also be an important consideration for the Collection.

At its core, the database will contain a list of rare and endangered Australian plants updated as revisions are published. It will also include relevant fields on distribution, conservation category, life forms, etc. of each of the species listed. Based upon this central reference list of plants, the organisation will gather the following data:

  1. The occurrence of plant accessions in botanic gardens and other ex situ conservation collections in Australia;
  2. Documentation and a bibliography on the horticultural methodologies used for the cultivation and propagation of plants;
  3. A register of plant recovery, reintroduction and ecological restoration programmes will be maintained;
  4. A list of rare or threatened species available in the horticultural trade will be maintained, as well as listings of the major nurseries stocking them;
  5. Species that are either controlled under the provisions of CITES, or else are endangered through their collection for trade, will be highlighted;
  6. In conjunction with BGCI, a list of non native rare and endangered plants in cultivation in Australia's botanic gardens will be maintained.

Regional Networking

As a complementary activity to our efforts in Australia we have also been active in the establishment of a regional network in the SW Pacific and SE Asian region.

The biodiversity of our region is amazingly diverse with a high level of endemism in its countries. Habitat loss and species extinction are not restricted to the tropical rain-forest of developing countries, despite the picture that is so often painted. The problem exists throughout our region, encompassing nearly all habitats. While many of the solutions will be specific to particular problems, there is a common need for the effective use of resources (Richardson and Butler 1993).

The regional networking will occur in two stages. The first will be the establishment of the national networks. Conferences have already been held in both New Zealand and Indonesia as well as Australia, and the ANPC has had considerable input. The national networks can be restricted to the botanic gardens community or can embrace a wider range of participants. From our experience with the ANPC, the latter is a more valuable means of participating in integrated conservation. When the national networks are in place it is intended to start encouraging a flow of information and assistance throughout the region.

Summary

Although the ANPC has only been operating for just over a year, we are already receiving recognition as a viable part of the plant conservation effort. During 1991/92 a draft Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity was prepared (Anon, 1991). It is encouraging that the Strategy recognises the importance of ex situ plant conservation and that the Australian Network for Plant Conservation has received favourable mention as a body that could play a valuable role in the overall national conservation effort.

In September 1993, the ANPC is planning to hold its second national conference. The tentative title for the Conference will be 'An Action Plan for the Australian Network for Plant Conservation'. The purpose of the meeting will be to discuss the Endangered Species Collection and its associated database, and the areas of plant conservation that will be worked on by the ANPC over the coming years.

Since the last International Conservation Congress in 1989, we have been able to complete our proposed plan to form the ANPC. By the next Congress I am sure that we will be able to report on the considerable progress that has been made by ANPC members in their efforts to conserve the Australian and regional flora.

References

Anon. (1991). Draft Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity. Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories. Canberra.

Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat (1989). The Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy. Kew.

Brown, A.H.D., and Briggs, J.D. (1991). Sampling Strategies for Genetic Variations in Ex Situ Collections of Endangered Plant Species. In: Falk, D.A, and Holsinger,K.E. (eds). Genetics and Conservation of Rare Plants. Oxford University Press, New York.

Butler, G., Meredith, L.D. and Richardson, M. (eds.) (1992). Conservation of Rare or Threatened Plants in Australasia. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Falk, D.A. (1987). Integrated Conservation Strategies for Endangered Plants. Natural Areas Journal 7(3)

Falk, D.A. (1990). Integrated Strategies for Conserving Plant Genetic Diversity. Annals of the Missouri Botanic Gardens 77.

Falk, D.A. (1992). Steps to the Formation of a National Conservation Network. In: Butler, G., Meredith, L.D., and Richardson, M. (eds). Conservation of Rare or Threatened Plants in Australasia. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Meredith, L.D., and Richardson,,M.M. (1990). Rare or Threatened Plants in Cultivation in Australia. Report Series No 15. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Meredith, L.D., and Richardson, M.M. (1991). Towards an Australian Botanic Gardens Secretariat. In: Heywood, V.H., and Wyse Jackson,P.S., (eds.). Tropical Botanic Gardens: Their Role in Conservation and Development. Academic Press, London.

Richardson, M.M. (1992). Plant Conservation and Networking in the SW Pacific and SE Asia. In: Proceedings of The Strategy of Indonesian Flora Conservation. Bogor. (in prep)

Richardson, M.M., Falk D.A., Wyse Jackson, P.S., Butler, G., and Meredith, L.D. (1991). Proposal for an Australian Network for Plant Conservation. Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Canberra.

Richardson, M.M. and Butler, G. (1993). An Australian Network for Plant Conservation. In: Proceedings of People, Plants and Conservation: Botanic Gardens into the 21st Century. Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, Wellington.

Appendix

Resolutions of the Conference held in Canberra, March 1991

The Delegates to the Conference recognize that:

  1. A serious crisis of endangerment of plant diversity exists at the state, national, regional, and global levels;
  2. Particular threats exist to biodiversity in Australia, and in the South west Pacific region generally;
  3. This crisis intensifies the need to co ordinate plant conservation efforts on a national scale, and to contribute to a national germplasm strategy, of which protection of the most critically threatened species in all regions of the country is a part;
  4. The current scale and pace of endangerment requires that conservation resources be directed efficiently toward the highest priority species;
  5. Patterns and causes of species decline and loss compel the development of integrated conservation strategies combining in situ and ex situ resources for species recovery, to provide the most lasting protection;
  6. Botanic gardens, arboreta, seed storage laboratories, and other off site facilities have an opportunity to play key roles in integrated conservation of plant diversity, as outlined in the Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy and in publications of the Center for Plant Conservation;
  7. Botanic gardens and land managing agencies have expressed their readiness to co operate in integrated conservation programs toward the common objective of enhancing species' prospects of survival;
  8. Living collections, including plants, stored seed, other living material, are a major contribution to integrated conservation;
  9. There is a need to collect, maintain and collate data on rare or threatened taxa at a national scale, including information on plants that are in cultivation or the subjects of integrated conservation projects;
  10. There is a pressing need for greater public awareness and education about plant diversity, endangerment, and conservation efforts;
  11. Indigenous and Aboriginal peoples have shown deep understanding and knowledge of the flora in all parts of Australia and the South west Pacific region generally;
  12. Precedent has been established by the Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat, the Center for Plant Conservation, and others for the structure, operation, and development of national plant conservation programs.

Therefore, the Delegates have declared their intent to:

  1. Establish a national network of all botanic gardens, arboreta, other conservation groups and individuals committed to plant conservation, joining their programs so as to provide comprehensive geographic coverage at a national scale;
  2. Link their efforts to current state and national programs to protect indigenous species, plant communities, and ecosystems;
  3. Support the establishment of a national co ordinating office to provide services for the network and its members;
  4. Seek funding for this national program, financed through member contributions and by outside public and private sources;
  5. Establish a multi site and comprehensively documented national endangered species collection, recognising material held in both public and private collections and encouraging the distribution of material to assist endangered species conservation.
  6. Ensure that these collections will represent, to the best of members' abilities and available resources, genetically representative samples of the diversity found within species, including the full range of genetic variation found in undescribed taxa and regional variants;
  7. Establish a national database of rare or threatened plants in cultivation, co operating with other national databases and distribute data necessary for plant conservation;
  8. Direct their efforts in a co ordinated manner toward the highest priority species and establish them in the National Collection;
  9. Contribute to the recovery and long term survival of species in their natural habitats by using the National Collection for integrated conservation, specifically for re introduction and recovery programs and to recognise the need to co operate with land managers, both public and private;
  10. Conduct horticultural and other relevant research that may contribute to the understanding and management of rare or threatened plants;
  11. Support and ensure understanding and implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES);
  12. Support the establishment of plant conservation education strategies, and promote their implementation;
  13. Support the establishment of plant conservation training strategies, and promote their implementation;
  14. Formulate or recommend scientific and policy guidelines and codes of practice on such matters as the management and genetic diversity of collections, reintroductions and uses of the National Collection;
  15. Maintain regular communication between members of the network by means of publications, and hold periodic meetings to exchange ideas and to discuss matters of policy;
  16. Encourage and support the development of An Australian National Strategy for the Conservation of Species and Habitats Threatened with Extinction, and other major state and national strategies for conserving genetic resources and diversity;
  17. Participate actively in regional and international plant conservation programs, particularly in the South west Pacific region.

Preface  |  Contents List  |  Congress Report  |  Workshop Conclusions  |  List of Authors