New Studies Show That Threatened Plants Thrive at Botanic Gardens
1 February 2005
A recent study by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) indicates that approximately 9,000 species which are threatened in the wild are in fact thriving in botanic gardens around the world.
This number makes up about one fourth of the plants known to be at risk yet only a small percentage of the possible total. The role of botanic gardens is important because scientists estimate that up to 100,000 species may disappear because of habitat destruction and climate change.
BGCI's survey involved the development of a new tool, the Plant Search Database. It allows botanic gardens to check for the first time what they hold in their particular collections against an international list of plants, recorded alongside their status in the Red Book of Threatened Species maintained by IUCN -The World Conservation Union.
One of the nation's most important botanic gardens, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Miami has been actively participating in conservation efforts since its founding in 1938.
"FTBG has the world's largest collection of threatened palms and cycads, however just having a cultivated collection of tropical plants is not enough, says Mike Maunder," Director of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and co-chair of the World Conservation Union Plant Conservation Committee. "We are linking our living collections with research at the Fairchild Center for Tropical Plant Conservation and working with partners in over 15 countries to ensure that endangered plants are preserved in the wild. For instance we are working with a village conservation project in Madagascar to conserve some of the world's most threatened trees."
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden?s continuing efforts are far reaching and include endangered palms, South Florida native plant conservation and Caribbean biodiversity.
The palm family is an economically important pantropical plant family, second only to grasses (grains) in importance to the lives of people. Many palms are endangered in the wild, largely because of habitat destruction. Difficult to study because of their large size and great diversity of species, palms present many unanswered questions in the areas of systematics, evolution, structural biology and reproductive biology. With its superb living collections of palms, Fairchild is a world center for palm studies, biology, information and conservation. Here are a few of the palms that Fairchild is working with:
Pseudophoenix sargentii: This species is widespread in the Caribbean, but in the USA, it is found in only one place: Elliott Key, part of Biscayne National Park. When Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden stepped in, in the 1980s, only 41 plants were left. Since then, Fairchild has propagated plants from the adults on Elliott Key and planted these seedlings back into the natural habitat. This long-term project in collaboration with BNP hopes to bulk up the population, using genetically appropriate stock, so that this palm continues to be a part of the flora of the USA.
Attalea crassispatha: This palm is found in Haiti and nowhere else in the world. Sadly, only a handful of adults remain in Haiti. For a palm such as this, from a habitat as shattered as Haiti, botanic gardens are the only hope for its survival. Fairchild has the young seed orchard growing. It is hoped that these will provide seed for conservation work. They represent in one planting almost as many plants as are left in Haiti.
Pseudophoenix lediniana: This palm is found in only one small valley in Haiti. This palm is under threat from illegal seed collecting, natural disasters, such as the hurricanes and landslides that effected Haiti this past summer, could wipe this species off the face of the earth. For this reason, botanic gardens such as FTBG, where the palm grows very well, can act as back-ups for the wild populations.
Dictyosperma album: This species, the Hurricane palm, is from the remote Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Rodrigues and Reunion. Fairchild is working with partners in the region to design a genetic management program for this highly endangered and beautiful palm.
South Florida Plant Conservation at Fairchild
Part of Fairchild's Research Department, the South Florida conservation team works with plants native to South Florida. We map, monitor, and research Florida native plants and plant communities. Our conservation collections at Fairchild's Research Center include approximately 100 rare native plant species from South Florida and the Caribbean. These collections support a diverse program of research and restoration efforts.
Fairchild maintains ex situ collections of 100 rare taxa from South Florida and the Caribbean housed in shade houses, glass houses, and full sun areas. These collections support a diverse program of research and restoration efforts and provide insurance against species extinction, plants for reintroduction or augmentation, and material to study the biology of rare species. Fairchild collects seed from wild populations, conducts germination tests to determine requirements and the capacity of seed for long-term storage. Fairchild has mailed over 28,000 seeds of endangered Florida species to the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.
Loss of biodiversity on islands and continental coasts of the Caribbean is driven by a variety of biological and socioeconomic forces. Islands, biogeographically isolated and politically fragmented, are still poorly understood in biological terms. Working with international partner institutions in the Caribbean, most notably in Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is involved in research and planning efforts to develop integrated conservation programs throughout the region.
The projects that Fairchild is currently working on will permit FTBG and its partners to enhance the ability of our partners to conduct conservation assessments of species and their habitats, formulate predictive hypotheses regarding actual status of species vs. collecting artifacts, train graduate students, undergraduates, high school students and land stewards about the value of habitat inventory and monitoring.
About World Conservation Union (IUCN)
World Conservation Union Plant Conservation Committee an international committee of experts guiding and co-coordinating plant conservation projects throughout the world. For more than 50 years this "Green Web" of partnerships has generated environmental conventions, global standards, scientific knowledge and innovative leadership. For more information, please visit www.iucn.org.
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