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Half the World's Magnolias Under Threat of Extinction

2 April 2007

Over half the world’s magnolia species are close to extinction in the wild, says new report

Red List of the MagnoliaceaeMagnolias may be blooming in Britain’s gardens this spring, but in the wild it’s an altogether different story. Over half the world’s magnolia species are facing extinction in their native forest habitats, according to an authoritative new report from two leading plant conservation organisations.

The Red List of the Magnoliaceae, published jointly today by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and Fauna & Flora International (FFI), through the Global Trees Campaign (GTC), identifies 131 wild magnolias as being in danger of extinction, from a global total of 245 species.

The significance of this potentially catastrophic loss lies not only in the threat to the genetic diversity of the family, but also because they are a highly sensitive indicator of the well-being of the forests in which they are found. Magnolias are among the most ancient groups of flowering plants and have long been cultivated by mankind. Some specimens growing in the precincts of Chinese temples are estimated to be up to 800 years old. Still popular as ornamental plants in gardens around the world (although fewer than 15 species are common in cultivation), in the wild magnolias are a source of timber, food and medicines for local communities.

Speaking at the report launch in London, Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI and one of the report's authors, said: “We now have a choice. We can use the new information to conserve these important trees and restore their forest habitats or we can catalogue their extinction.”

“The second option”, she added, “would be a tragedy”.

Some two thirds of known magnolia species are found in Asia, with over 40% occurring in southern China. According to the report half of all wild Chinese magnolias are at risk of extinction. In the Americas, north and south, where magnolias are also found in the wild, a similar picture is emerging. In Colombia, for example, the report concludes that the threat of extinction hangs over 30 of its native species.

Underpinning the report is a comprehensive mapping exercise carried out at Bournemouth University. According to report co-author, Professor Adrian Newton, “The maps provide an excellent baseline for future monitoring and conservation planning at a time of rapid environmental change. Comparing species distribution with forest cover for a whole family of flowering plants gives us a unique snapshot of forest biodiversity.”

Drawing on the report’s findings BGCI and FFI are collaborating through the Global Trees Campaign to boost conservation efforts for threatened magnolias. Later this month, at the 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Wuhan, China (April 16 - 20, 2007), BGCI will launch a survey of botanic garden collections of threatened magnolias species. This will enable BGCI to identify precisely which threatened species are not yet held in ex situ collections (in botanic gardens and arboreta, etc.), and take action to ensure that integrated conservation measures for these species are developed and implemented.

FFI is already working to improve the status of the wild populations of the most threatened magnolia species in China. “We are aiming to restore wild populations of key magnolia species in Yunnan Province,” said Dr Georgina Magin, Global Trees Campaign Coordinator at FFI, “We hope to be able to extend this work to take action for other species, both in China and in other parts of the world.”

Also being launched at the 3rd Global Botanic Gardens Congress in Wuhan is China’s Strategy for Plant Conservation, designed to coordinate and strengthen the work already being undertaken by Chinese universities, botanic gardens and Government agencies to conserve Chinese magnolias. BGCI has been instrumental in assisting key Chinese agencies to develop the Strategy.

Download the Red List of the Magnoliaceae

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