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Primula Biodiversity Conservation in the Central Siberian Botanical Garden, Novosibirsk, Russia

Volume 3 Number 4 - June 2000

Nataliya K. Kovtonyuk, Yurii V Ovchinnikov & Nickolai R. Bogatyrev

Thirteen species of primrose grow in Siberia, which accounts for 3% of the worldwide Primula biodiversity. More than half of them are in need of conservation. Many primrose species are in cultivation as medicinal plants and for the development of new decorative cultivars.

Species of Primula are under threat because they are early blooming decorative plants, which attract the attention of bouquet lovers and gardeners in early spring. Some of the species can reproduce vegetatively, but many of wild Primula species propagate by seed, so if they are picked in the blooming stage they are not able to set seed. To date the strategy of wild Primula seed reproduction has not been studied.

Conservation of biological diversity is possible through the creation of a network of refuges, national parks or nature reserves. Each species also needs an individual recovery programme. It is necessary to bring endangered plants into cultivation in botanical gardens to study their reproduction in order to restore populations to the wild.

Some authors point out, that when wild Primula is brought into cultivation, the plants do not set fruits, or the seeds are sterile. In nature Primula is pollinated by bumblebees and single bees. It is possible that the reduction in seed set is due to the decrease in the number of pollinators which has led to a gradual drop in the abundance and disappearance of the species.

Two ways of pollination and subsequent fruiting of Primula are theoretically possible: cross pollination by insects and self-pollination in the absence of the pollinators. Heterostyly, is observed in some Primula plants and increases outbreeding. More seeds are formed by cross pollination between individuals with different forms of flowers. Therefore, wild Primula plants need natural pollinators. Primula biodiversity conservation is impossible without the protection, attraction and cultivation of the appropriate pollinators and vice versa.

The Central Siberian Botanical Garden, Novosibirsk has a collection of wild primrose in the Bonsai Park of Natural Flora of Siberia. There are: Primula macrocalyx Bunge, P.pallasii Lehm., P. nivalis Pallas, P.cortusoides L and P. sieboldii E. Morren. The plants were taken from natural populations and planted in similar sites based on ecological and geographical conditions and the presence of the natural pollinators of Primula.

To provide reliable and adequate pollination, we arranged special measures to attract wild pollinators (bumblebees in our case). Artificial bee hives were installed around the experimental plot. Forty per cent of the nest-boxes were occupied by bumblebees Bombus hypnorum L.-pollinators of Primula. The hives had an original "double-decker" design. It excluded the exhausting competition between bumblebees and wasps for the nesting cavity: the upper compartment (supplied with the nesting material ¾ cotton wool) was occupied by bumblebees, and the lower one was inhabited inevitably by wasps or hornets, because it was empty. This double-compartment hive is highly recommended for arboreta, nurseries, botanical gardens and nature reserves as a nesting box. In August 1999, P. pallasii, P. macrocalyx, P. sieboldii were pollinated and formed viable seeds.

A computer database of North Asian primrose in Access-97 has been created. It consists of morphology, nomenclature, ecological data, photographs and drawings of plants and information on the distribution of the species.

It is planned to build up a collection of new specimens and species to study the reproductive biology of the primrose in natural populations and the botanical garden.