Argentine Botanic Gardens: Present Situation and Perspectives of Work in the Field of Species Conservation.

(Los Jardines Botánicos Argentinos: Situación y Perspectivas para Desarrollar Tareas en el Campo de la Conservación de Especies)

Sergio Martín Zalba

Cátedra de Biología General, Universidad Nacional del Sur,
San Juan 670 - (8000) - Bahía Blanca, Argentina

Abstract

The challenge to become useful agents in regional plant species conservation finds the Argentine botanic gardens immersed in a very profound crisis.

This situation has many origins: on one hand the majority of the institutions themselves have not managed to become recognized scientific, educational and recreational centres, nor have they developed ways of communicating amongst themseleves and with their equivalents abroad. On the other hand there is a generalized underestimation of their importance by the authorities they depend on.

In spite of the magnitude of these problems, the devotion of the majority of their directors and personnel, the richness of the region's flora and the level and continuing history of botanical science in the country increase the potential of the gardens to make an effective contribution in the area of plant conservation.

Work appraisal, coordination of effort, information transfer and interaction with other Argentine and foreign gardens are some of the more critical areas for action.

Resumen

El desafío de convertirse en herramientas para la preservación de los recursos naturales de la región encuentra a los jardinos botánicos argentinos en medio de una profunda crisis que en muchos casos llega a amenazar su continuidad en el tiempio.

Este hecho tiene origines endógenos y exógenos a los jardines; por un lado las propias instituciones no han conseguido una inserción social como centros reconocidos de educación y esparcimiento público ni han desarrollado estrategias su continuidad proviene del exterior ya que al tratarse en su mayoría de entidades dependientes en forma directa del Estado no escapan de la crisis generalizada que genera una política de recortes presupuestarios hacia la educación y la investigación científica. A esto se suma el escaso reconocimiento académico con que cuenta el trabajo en los jardines botánicos lo que los convierte en areas poco atractivas para los jóvenes graduados.

En medio de este estado de cosas se destacan los esfuerzos de la mayoría de los directivos que desvían tiempo de otras tareas para mantener sus instituciones en funcionamiento.

Toda esta situación contrasta con la variedad y riqueza de la flora nativa de la región y con la historia y el nivel de la investigación botánica en nuestro país, realidades que aumentan la potencialidad de los jardines para convertirse en verdaderos centros de conservación de especies cumpliendo un rol protagónico en la perservación de los recursos y el desarrollo de la región a través de su múltiple dimensión científico-téchnica y educativa. Para ello se avisora como muy importante el establecimiento de una comunicación efectiva entra las instituciones del país y la posibilidad de acceder a programas de cooperación internacional, luchando simultaneamente por conseguir el reconocimiento público de su importancia y la jerarquización del trabajo en el área.

Introduction and Methods

The Argentine Republic has a continental area slightly above 2.7 million square kilometres. In its vast territory there exists a great edaphic, topographic and climatic variety. Consequently an great floristic abundance can also be observed. This diversity has undoubtedly been one of the reasons for the important development of botanical science in the country. Within this field of knowledge, botanic gardens stand out as characteristic manifestations of the interest in the knowledge and spread of the regional flora and its importance. The most traditional botanic gardens date from the beginning of this century and more modern ones have been added since.

Between June and September 1991, I developed a national survey on botanic gardens with the purpose of determining their situation and in order to propose actions for them to take in order to play a more prominent part in regional species preservation.

I designed the form used for this study following recommendations by Vernon Heywood from BGCI, with some modifications for structural adaptation to conform to the reality of Argentine institutions. informatiomn recorded included facilities characteristics, the institutional general organization, the relationship with other scientific centres, personnel availability, information storage systems, collection features, educational activities and financing.

I visited all botanic gardens within the country to personally interview directors and other people with different tasks assigned in every institution, to examine facilities and to observe their situation.

Results

There exist in the Argentine Republic sixteen botanical gardens distributed in nine provinces, especially concentrated in the Federal Capital and in Buenos Aires suburbs where almost 30% of the total are located. They represent seven of the twelve phytogeographic provinces within the country, extending from sea-level to 2 600 m. Considering their administrative characteristics they can be grouped into four categories:

Gardens depending on national universities

They represent 44% of the total and were created as complementary tools for the training of professionals in the natural sciences. The great majority of them depend on agricultural departments, and their collections are especially rich in cultivated plants. They have not escaped the present financial crisis affecting Argentine universities and experience, in general, facility deficiencies as well as personnel shortages and inadequate preparation and training for working in the field. The majority do not receive specific budget appropriations. Working in these gardens attracts little academic recognition and therefore is not attractive to young graduates. A great number of them are supported almost exclusively by the work and advocacy of the teaching staff directing them.

In spite of these deficiencies they benefit from the advantage of being directly related to scientific information-generation centres and enjoy easy access to specialized libraries, herbaria and laboratories.

Gardens depending on Scientific Research Institutions

They represent 25% of the botanical gardens in the country. As in the previous case, even when they have very important scientific support they have only been occasionally used as tools in natural resources studies. Nonetheless, very interesting plans have been elaborated to incorporate them into new field projects.

In general, they suffer from a marked deterioration and have been quite close to disappearing, leaving, in some cases, space for other areas within the institutions they depend upon.

Municipal Gardens

This category groups the 18% of the national botanical gardens that depend upon local administrations mainly with educational objectives. They are greatly affected by the present economic crisis. Nonetheless, this might not be the greatest obstacle they face, considering the general lack of recognition of their importance on the part of the authorities; this cause constant delays in satisfying their most elementary needs.

In spite of these limitations these gardens are entities with a key role in education: they depend upon municipalities also having under their jurisdiction part of the primary and high school level educational institutions coordination. This situation could be very useful and advantageous in facilitating the coordination of formal education programmes.

Private Gardens

They constitute the remaining 13% and depend almost exclusively upon their proprietors' dedication and other collaborators, such as cooperative societies or associations of friends, for funding. They lack formal scientific support from botanical institutions even when they are related to these centres (chiefly through personal contacts). Mainly driven by the enthusiasm of their directors, they have established contacts with international bodies.

Main deficiencies

From the thorough study of Argentine botanical gardens it appears that the majority of them have the following problems:

Recommendations

In spite of the magnitude of the problems here exposed, both regional native flora richness and variety, as well as the level and history of botanical research in the Argentine Republic, increase botanic gardens' potential to become active centres for species preservation. Thus I consider that the following actions should be taken into consideration when attempting their reactivation.

In summary, both the acceleration of environmental degradation and the new trends in natural resource preservation currently confront Argentine botanic gardens with their greatest challenges.

Even if theirs is a very profound crisis, they none the less count on the support of the important tradition, history and high level of botanical research within the country.

Work appraisal, coordination of effort, information transfer and interaction with Argentine and similar foreign institutions constitute some of the more promising actions to give them the key role they are called on to play in regional plant species conservation.

Acknowledgements

This survey was funded by WWF-US and coordinated by Dr. Enrique Forero, whose advice greatly helped my work. I thank the Department of Biology of the Universidad Nacional del Sur for allowing me to conduct this research.

Many thanks to the Argentine Botanic Garden's authorities and personnel for their help and hospitality and for keeping their gardens breathing.

Appendix: Argentine Botanical Gardens Directory

Appendix (cont.): Argentine Botanical Gardens Directory

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