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The Silesian Botanical Garden as a natural habitat garden

Volume 6 Number 1 - January 2009

Paweł Kojs

Introduction

Poland is facing a dramatic loss of biodiversity and this is thought likely to continue through the coming decades. Of particular concern are various types of grassland habitats (such as hay meadows) as these are considered to contain the highest numbers of rare and endangered plant species per square metre in Poland. While these habitats are protected under the EU Habitats Directive, habitats influenced by agricultural activity must be used, otherwise with the passing of time natural succession will change the character of plant associations and thus in most cases negatively influence biodiversity. But when used improperly the biodiversity of these agriculturally-influenced associations will also be lost. The area of these grasslands has decreased dramatically throughout the past decade (especially after EU accession), as farming has become more and more intensive.

Protected areas are not the only means of conserving biodiversity. Sometimes, quite incidentally, managed habitats can offer refugia for species that are in decline in protected areas. Managed landscapes can and do support biodiversity, and a big challenge for researchers is to consider how to best integrate biodiversity conservation in both strictly protected and in managed areas. Here is an opportunity for ‘habitat’ botanical gardens. Botanical gardens are professionally managed areas, where besides high botanic diversity habitats for considerable numbers of invertebrates and small vertebrates can also be found.

Natural conditions of the Silesian Botanical Garden

The Silesian Botanical Garden is one of the youngest botanical gardens in Poland. Although it has been existence for 9 years, it was officially established as a union of associations in 2003. The Garden is located close to Mikołów City, south of Katowice City – capital of the Silesian Province, the most industrialized part of Poland. The Silesian Botanical Garden covers an area of about 100 hectares and is part of a bigger landscape complex. This landscape complex of 524 ha also includes a special forest farm for forestry management (70 ha), an ecological landscape park (182 ha) and arable lands with field margins (172 ha). The area reserved for the Silesian Botanical Garden includes a variety of habitat types suitable for both aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna (Szendera et al. 2005). Over 650 species of vascular plants, including over 100 rare and 30 legally protected taxa can be found in the garden, as well as many natural land types unique to Upper Silesia.

Forty nine plant communities have been identified in the Silesian Botanical Garden, of which 8 are communities of unknown syntaxonomical position. These plant associations reflect a range of habitat types: woodlands, water, swamps, muddy banks, temporarily flooded swamps, meadows, grasslands, nitrophilic forest margins, clearings and disturbed land (Wilczek et al. 2005). 6 communities occur on the Red List of Upper Silesian Plant Communities (Celiński et al. 1997).

Special attention is paid to the communities of unidentified syntaxonomical position, composed of strictly protected plants: communities with Equisetum telmateia and communities with Gentianella ciliata.

What conditions must be fulfilled to establish a collection of living plants of rare or endangered species significant for biodiversity conservation?

To have an endangered plant in a botanic garden does not necessarily mean that it is in a conservation programme. In botanic gardens even a diverse population of an endangered species without its natural environment will systematically lose its ability to compete and survive in its “normal” habitat. In botanic gardens it is the gardener, not nature, that provides the most significant factors that influence the direction of the micro-evolution of such a population. By modifying (simplifying) the environment, we may unintentionally eliminate the processes of co-evolution of plants, fungi, animals, bacteria or viruses and thus reduce the ability of certain population to adapt to the much more complex natural ecosystem. This may result in the reintroduction of species into their natural habitats being unsuccessful.

Goals and aims of Silesian Botanical Garden

The main aim for this new botanical garden is the conservation of the local flora in Upper Silesia and neighbouring areas, merging ex situ and in situ conservation methods. The large area of the Silesian Botanical Garden provides a good opportunity for the conservation of many plant communities (woodland, wetland and xerothermic associations) in semi – natural habitats (secondary habitats). It also paves the way for research on secondary habitats e.g. to establish the minimal effective area for a given habitat or procedures for the best practice in management of secondary as well as natural habitats (Loreau et al. 2001). The key research task may well be to develop our understanding of how managed interventions can mimic natural disturbance processes and patterns, and how these can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity. Climate change will be an important factor influencing future land use change (Thomas et al. 2004). Land use change, in turn, will influence the distribution of habitats and species in a warmer world. More research is needed to develop an understanding of future land use and landscape change as well as the effects on nature conservation networks.

Other aims of the Silesian Botanical Garden are the following:

  1. to create appropriately large habitats which would be identical or similar to natural habitats and to provide the best possible conditions for regeneration of populations of protected, endangered or rare plants – the main focus of our conservation activities;
  2. to establish secondary habitats for priority habitats (Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora) occurring in the province of Silesia;
  3. to provide additional habitats (not listed in Annex 1) suitable for all species that are fully or partly protected by law currently occurring in the Silesian District (there are 136 such species of vascular plants);
  4. to organize a local seed bank for rare and endangered plants in the Upper Silesian region.

Methods

Firstly we developed the natural potential of the Silesian Botanical Garden to recreate habitats which have been negatively affected by human activity during the last few hundred years. This process is based on the method of enriching chosen plant associations by planting appropriate species of herbaceous plants, trees and bushes. There are also activities aimed at restoring the plant communities associated with agricultural land. The aim is to create habitats that are as similar as possible to the natural conditions in order to protect the future generations of plants from biased selection caused by the change of environmental conditions and genetic erosion caused by too small a population in a small area. The main source of seeds and habitats (parts of habitats) for the recreation of habitats are areas outside the garden presently being influenced by infrastructural development (mainly roads, new factories, new settlements, etc.).

Activities and plans

Because of its convenient location in the centre of the Silesian conurbation, the diversity of accessible habitats and its relatively large area, the Silesian Botanical Garden has particular opportunities to protect large populations of plants which are headed for extinction in Silesia, in natural and semi-natural environments.

We also think of the Silesian Botanical Garden as the interface between humans and nature. The garden acts as a node, from which impacts radiate out into the surrounding areas. We aim to help the general public to understand the need to conserve habitats and communities, thereby conserving species more effectively. We hope this would not only address today’s threatened species but would slow the decline of common species, preventing them from becoming tomorrow’s threatened species. This is especially important in view of climate change scenarios.

Conclusions

The proposed solution refers to part of our “genetic heritage” which should be protected. That is, collections of native plants growing wild. The important element of this solution is a good knowledge of the natural position of protected, endangered and rare plants in a particular region, taking into account nature reserves and ecological arable lands for seed collection as well as strengthening wild populations by planting good specimens from ex situ/in situ cultivation. The advantages of the Silesian Botanical Garden allow many species of vascular plants to be brought under protection in appropriate habitats in their natural or semi-natural associations.

References

Celiński F., Wika S., Parusel J. (Eds.). 1997. Red List Of Upper Silesian Plant Communities In: Parusel J.B., (ed.) Centrum Dziedzictwa Przyrody Górnego Śląska Raporty i opinie. Tom 2: 39-68, Katowice

Habitats Directive COUNCIL DIRECTIVES 92/43/EEC, 21 May 1992. On the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Loreau M., Naeem S., Inchausti P., Bengtsson J., Grime J. P., Hector A., Hooper D. U., Huston M. A., Raffaelli D., Schmid B., Tilman D., Wardle D. A. 2001. Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challenges. Science, 294: 804-808.

Southwood, T. R. E. 1977. Habitat, the template for ecological strategies. Journal of Animal Ecology 46: 337-365.

Szendera W., Włoch W., Kojs P. Jura J., Wilczek A. 2005. Natural potential of the Silesian Botanical Garden in conservation of wild plant and crop plant diversity. Biul. Ogr. Bot., Muzeów i Zb., 14: 9-18

Thomas, C.D., Cameron, A., Green, R.E., Bakkenes, M., Beaumont, L.J., Collingham, Y.C., Erasmus, B.F.N., Ferreira de Siqueira, M., Grainger, A., Hannah, L., Hughes, L., Huntley, B., van Jaarsveld, A.S., Midgley, G.F., Miles, L., Ortega-Huerta, M.A., Townsend Peterson, A., Phillips, O.L., and Williams, S.E. 2004. Extinction risk from climate change. Nature 427: 145-148.

Wilczek A., Jura J., Włoch W., Kojs P. Szendera W. 2005. The significance of the field shrubs and hedges in biodiversity conservation. The old field shrubs and hedges of Silesian Botanical Garden. Biul. Ogr. Bot., Muzeów i Zb., 14: 49-54

Pawel Kojs
Botanical Garden - Center for Biological Diversity Conservation,
PAS Warsaw,
Silesian Botanical Garden,
Mikolow,
Poland;
Email: pkojs@op.pl