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Reintroduction of threatened plant species in Russia

Volume 6 Number 1 - January 2009
Antonina Shmaraeva, Irina Ruzaeva

Introduction

The conservation of individual species and plant communities in situ is preferable to preservation ex situ. However, in many regions the scale of ecological degradation does not allow the conservation of plants under natural conditions. In such cases, the introduction of threatened species into conservation areas for future recovery and the reconstruction of entire communities may be regarded as a potential measure for saving plants threatened with extinction.

A number of projects and programmes involving species recovery and restoration have been carried out over the last 40 years in Russia and the former USSR. In recent years however, interest in reintroducing rare and threatened plants has considerably increased and the number of related publications has also grown. Despite this, the basic methodological principles for plant reintroduction, especially related to threatened species are underdeveloped. There is also a lack of coordination of reintroduction activities with respect to selecting priority species for urgent conservation and fundraising for implementing plant restoration and recovery programmes.

In 2007, BGCI organised two workshops to evaluate the current situation of threatened plant reintroduction in Russia as well as to train botanic garden staff in developing and implementing recovery programmes. A pre-meeting survey carried out by BGCI revealed that more than 100 plant species are included in recovery and restoration programmes implemented by Russian botanic gardens and nature reserves. However, only 28 of these species are listed in the National Red Data Book, equivalent to about 4% of the total number of threatened species in Russia. Thus restoration activity should be increased significantly to reach 10% of threatened species, as proposed in Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

Following the two workshops, a manual providing detailed guidance for plant reintroduction was published in English and Russian by BGCI (Gorbunov et al., 2008) and two pilot threatened species reintroduction projects were launched in 2008. These projects are located in the southern part of the European territory of Russia: Samara Region in the middle region of the Volga River and Rostov-on-Don Region close to the delta area of the Don River. Historically these are regions where extensive agriculture covered vast areas of vulnerable steppe landscapes. Both projects are targeted at restoring the steppe flora in areas that are in a serious stage of degradation due to anthropogenic pressure. This degradation is having a disastrous effect on landscape and biological diversity and due to this, the concept of steppe landscape restoration is becoming increasingly popular in Russia.

Reintroduction of rare species of steppe flora in Rostov-on-Don region

The first project is being implemented by the Botanical Garden of the Southern Federal University which is located in Rostov-on-Don - one of the major cities in the south of Russia. The ecological situation in the Rostov-on-Don area is described as critical due to the practically complete extinction of zonal steppe vegetation. In most of the territory the natural vegetation is already destroyed: 60 % of the area is under arable land, about 9% is covered with water, roads and settlements and the remainder is under severe development pressure.

The vascular flora of the Rostov-on-Don area includes more than 1,900 species of which 46 are included in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation and 217 are in the local Red Data Book of Rostov-on-Don region. Rare species mainly include obligate steppe plants of genera such as Stipa, Crambe, Tulipa etc. Two ecologically important steppe species, which form plant communities of Don River steppes were selected as the objects for the reintroduction experiment. The area and population of both of these species is declining due to habitat disturbance and destruction. Stipa ucrainica P. Smirn. is endemic to the Black Sea coast and is listed in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation (2V category). It is the main indicator species of the dry steppes of the Don River basin. Stipa pulcherrima C. Koch is a vulnerable species also included in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation (2V category). It is a dominant plant of mixed pastures and stony steppes.

The specific goal of the project was to create sustainable artificial populations with Stipa ucrainica and Stipa pulcherrima as dominant species in an area of 30,000 sq.m in a specially protected natural steppe landscape within the boundary of the botanical garden.. In addition to Stipa spp., populations of some rare herbaceous plants typical for the Don River steppe were also included in the artificial communities: Iris pumila L., Eremurus spectabilis Bieb., Salvia austriaca Jacq. and Crambe tataria Sebeok.

Establishment techniques

The method is based on sowing seed mixtures of numerous species, including seeds of rare plants collected from natural communities, into a ploughed soil (Dzybov, 2001). It provides the model environmental conditions necessary for the stable growth of introduced mixtures of rare and endangered steppe species. The seed preparation includes hand cleaning which is labour intensive and time consuming, but it provides significant similarity in species composition and abundance between natural and experimental communities. The mixture includes seeds of not less than 50 plant species. It consists of 30% grasses (dominating species), 10% leguminous plants and 60% other herbaceous species.

Seed collecting

Field trips to 7 administrative districts of Rostov-on-Don region were organized to evaluate natural populations of rare species and to collect seeds of steppe plants. Two - three populations of species such as Stipa ucrainica, Stipa pulcherrima, Crambe tataria, Iris pumila, Eremurus spectabilis, Salvia austriaca, Bellevalia sarmatica, Centaurea ruthenica, Hedysarum grandiflorum, Hyacinthella pallasiana and Linum hirsutum were described in each location. These communities were not significantly disturbed and were thus used as the basis for the creation of artificial populations in the botanical garden.

Seeds of 98 typical steppe species from 28 families and 71 genera were collected in order to provide floristical and taxonomical diversity of created communities and to conform to the natural analogues. Two plots of artificial steppe (15,000 sq.m. each) were established at the end of October. Stipa pulcherrima is the dominant species for one plot, with a total of 88 species included in the seed mixture, 12 of which are rare. Stipa ucrainica is the dominant species for the other plot, where the seed mixture includes 87 species with 9 rare species. The seeds of Stipa pulcherrima, Stipa ucrainica and some other rare species where collected from different parts of Rostov-on-Don region to provide genetic heterogeneity and thus stability, in the reintroduced populations. These two newly established plots add to a fragment of artificial steppe dominated by Stipa dasyphylla which had already been created in the botanical garden.

If the weather conditions of winter–spring 2009 are favourable, then the mass germination of seeds will take place during the next year of the experiment. If there is some loss of seeds, additional sowing during the next 2 years will be provided.

Long-term perspectives of the project

The work implemented so far is just the first stage of the reintroduction experiment. During the next 2 years the development of the artificial communities and the rare plant populations will be closely observed and the plots will be appropriately managed. After 4-5 years, seeds of these populations should be ready for use in restoring Stipa ucrainica and Stipa pulcherrima populations in other specially protected natural territories of Rostov-on-Don Region. The plots of artificial steppe created through the project will be included in the ecological path which is currently being developed in the garden as the part of the programme for environmental education. The artificial steppe area will be a good example of regional vegetation recovery and plant diversity conservation.

Rare plant reintroduction in natural habitats

The second project is being implemented by the Botanical Garden of the Samara State University. The flora of Samara Region is abundant and diverse; it comprises more than 2,500 species of higher plants. Intensive agriculture has led to the devastation of most steppe plant communities, which nowadays are only preserved in remote areas. However, there has been a recent trend towards the reduction of intensive agriculture and the transformation of some areas into fallow lands. Here we see a gradual succession replacement of early coloniser species by the common steppe and meadow plants. But the most valuable and rare components of plant communities that were already lost cannot reappear without special intervention (reintroduction of seeds or plants).

The following plant species listed in the Red Data Books of the Russian Federation and Samara Region were selected for this project: Paeonia tenuifolia L. – considered extinct in Samara Region for the last 50 years but which has recently started to reappear in some remote areas; Juniperus sabina L. - a very rare species which is gradually decreasing in number and which grows on limestone soils in stony steppes and in pine forests; Iris pumila L. a rare species with a stable population. It is an ornamental plant and grows in various parts of Samara Region. Its populations are highly damaged by human interference and especially by steppe fires. Its reintroduction to natural ecosystems is considered to be easier than for the first two species.

The specific goal of the project is to optimise rare plant reintroduction techniques for various plant communities of forest-steppe and steppe in the Middle Volga River area.

Results

Four reintroduction sites have been selected using the following criteria:

  • environmental conditions that meet the needs of a plant (type of community, quality of soil, microrelief and microclimate);
  • intensity of anthropogenic pressure (cattle grazing, recreation intensity, distance from villages and towns etc.);
  • accessibility to conduct periodical observations.

Preparation of experimental material

Juniperus sabina cuttings were obtained from 3 small populations in the Zhigulevskiy State Reserve and propagated vegetatively at the botanic garden. 150 cuttings were successfully rooted and will be ready for planting in spring 2009. The botanic garden nursery has also prepared more than 150 plants of Iris pumila from plants that are growing in the botanical garden. In spring 2009 Iris pumila will be planted in the Krasnosamarsky forest and Juniperus sabina will be planted in Zhigulevskiy State Reserve in order to create populations and increase the number of plants of these species.

Planting of experimental material in reintroduction sites

170 plants (sprouts with 3-5 buds) of Paeonia tenuifolia were obtained by splitting mother shrubs from the collection of the botanical garden. Reintroduction was conducted in autumn (September-October) 2008, with the prepared plants being planted in model plots in the reintroduction sites at Chubovskaya steppe and in Krasnosamarsky forest (specially protected natural territories of Samara Region). Planted specimens were protected from the influence of adjacent plants by partial removal of competitors. In addition seeds of the species were also planted in both plots.

Long-term perspectives

Intensive research on the reintroduced plants will be conducted at the model plots by students, postgraduate students and professors at the Polygon for Monitoring Studies of Samara State University. The main focus of these activities will be the monitoring of the established reintroduction sites and the creation of new sites. The work of creating a network of reintroduction plots (which was launched in 2003) will also continue in different areas of Samara Region.

Conclusion

Plant reintroduction activities in Russia have been enhanced due to BGCI’s reintroduction programme initiated in 2007 and two pilot projects on the restoration of threatened steppe species have been successfully launched. However much work remains to be done in sustaining and monitoring the artificial communities that have been created, as well as expanding reintroduction activities in Russia.

References

Dzybov D.S. 2001. Metod agrostepej. Uskorennoe vosstanovlenie prirodnoj rastitel'nosti. Metodicheskoe posobie. Saratov. 40 pp.

Gorbunov, Yu. N., Dzybov, D.S., Kuzmin, Z.E. and Smirnov, I.A. 2008. Methodological recommendations for botanic gardens on the reintroduction of rare and threatened plants. BGCI, Russian Botanic Gardens Council, Main Botanic Garden of Russian Academy of Sciences. Moscow, Russia. 52 pp.

Antonina Shmaraeva
Senior research scientist
Laboratory of Natural Flora
Botanical Garden of the
Southern Federal University
Botanical slope, 7,
Rostov-on-Don, Russia, 344700
Email: botsad@rsu.ru

Irina Ruzaeva
Head of the Flora Department
Botanical Garden of Samara State University
Moscow highway, 36,
Samara, Russia, 443086
Email: sambg@ssu.samara.ru