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Contributions of Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden to Brazil's national GSPC mainstreaming

Volume 7 Number 2 - July 2010
Gustavo Martinelli

At 202 years of age, the Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden Research Institute (JBRJ) has a long history of contributing to the development of scientific knowledge and plant conservation frameworks, protocols and actions. Several initiatives can be highlighted, such as the creation of the first Brazilian National Park in 1937 - the Itatiaia National Park, formerly a field research station of the JBRJ. More recently, the establishment of important botanical collections, such as the RB Herbarium, the DNA bank, the live collection and the institutional seed bank represent major steps towards effective conservation. For more than two centuries, JBRJ has protected in itself the memory of the Brazilian natural landscapes and its transitions, preserving plants introduced during colonial times, while at the same time, investing in scientific advances for the challenge of plant diversity conservation.

In order to mainstream national efforts with international initiatives towards plant conservation, the National Centre for Plant Conservation – CNCFlora, was created in December 2008, under the JBRJ infrastructure. The Centre`s mission is to coordinate national efforts, and to understand, document, and conserve plant diversity in Brazil, in collaboration with research institutions and environmental agencies worldwide. The challenge is being developed according to the framework provided by the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), prioritizing the targets that meet national priorities and capacities.

“Mainstreaming national conservation policies with the GSPC framework is of great importance”.

Targets being addressed
CNCFlora has focused efforts on achieving advances in five specific GSPC targets: a) a widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world flora (Target 1); b) a preliminary assessment of the conservation status of all known plant species, at national, regional or international level (Target 2); c) development of models with protocols for plant conservation and sustainable use, based on research and practical experience (Target 3); d) the number of trained people working with appropriated facilities in plant conservation increased, according to national needs, to achieve the targets of this strategy (Target 15); and e) networks for plant conservation activities established at national, regional and international level (Target 16).

Target 1
Due to high rates of biodiversity and endemism in Brazil, GSPC Target 1 has always been considered a challenge and several previous actions have already failed. The JBRJ has been working for 2 years on the development of the Official List of the Brazilian Flora. CNCFlora has brought together 480 researchers from national and international institutions through an online platform, specially designed in association with the Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental (CRIA), to organize coordinators, collaborators, attributions and personal contributions. The process used the Species2000 protocol, and generated a species list composed of c. 45,000 taxa, to be launched in April 2010. This represents a major achievement for the botanical community, since a huge proportion of the world’s plant diversity occurs in Brazil and is under constant threat due to unsustainable land use practices.

Target 2
In the absence of an Official List of the Brazilian Flora, achievements towards GSPC Target 2 are limited, but still significant. Considering the need to improve conceptual and methodological definitions to address endangered species conservation status assessments in Brazil, CNCFlora has been engaged in the process of diagnosing the present system of endangered species management and identifying globally emerging trends in plant conservation. A series of technical meetings are scheduled for this year in order to consolidate a formal proposal to be forwarded to the Environment Ministry, with the specifications of a modern and adequate system of endangered species management, mainstreamed to the GSPC framework. Besides that, 12 recovery plans are being elaborated under the coordination of this Centre. Eight recovery plans for Orchidaceae, one for Amaryllidaceae and three for Lauraceae species. It is important to note that this represents more than the number of recovery plans ever developed in Brazil for endangered plant species, and constitutes an important step in plant conservation policy towards a more proactive approach.

“The Brazilian Official List of Endangered Species includes 472 species. 92 endangered species are in the ex situ collection of JBRJ.”

Target 3
Advances in the targets mentioned have been possible due to extensive research and discussion on conservation protocols adopted by different countries, their strengths and weaknesses, and appropriateness to the Brazilian biodiversity situation and institutional capacity. During its two years of operation, CNCFlora staff have been reviewing all literature on the subject and consolidating a document to be forwarded to the Environment Ministry and all responsible government institutions, in order to standardize national efforts for plant conservation. The document will be presented in late 2010 and will address GSPC Target 3 recommendations.

Target 15
To guarantee the long term sustainability of CNCFlora and its actions, investments in capacity building for the conservation of plant diversity has been a priority since the Centre’s creation. Therefore, the CNCFlora Grant Program was established. This already supports 11 professionals, 3 undergraduate, 1 graduate and 5 post-graduate students. Alignment between the JBRJ Research Institute and the Brazilian National School of Tropical Botany – ENBT, has been strategic to assure the necessary infrastructure to increase the number of trained people in plant conservation.

Target 16
However, the most challenging task might be to guarantee proper communication among actors involved in the plant conservation process, avoiding by that, redundant efforts. In this way, CNCFlora has been investing time in establishing working agendas with all government institutions related to biodiversity and plant conservation, in order to consolidate an effective network.  Despite people’s good will, and existing guidelines for plant conservation, the Brazilian institutions seem to be unsupported in implementing their conservation agendas. This Centre has played a key role in articulating actors and focusing efforts on the recommendations of GSPC Target 16, related to building networks. 

Notwithstanding the recent creation of CNCFlora, the significant progress made to date on the targets listed above evidences the importance of botanic gardens participating in plant conservation all over the world, leading the way and working as models for other scientific institutions and environmental agencies. Mainstreaming national conservation policies with the GSPC framework is of great relevance. Since biodiversity does not respond to political boundaries, the conservation strategies for plants must be transversely and globally implemented, in order to assure effectiveness of actions.

To face the new challenge of plant conservation worldwide and halt biodiversity loss, new integrative approaches are needed. It is necessary to establish communication among actors involved in this process, and botanic gardens can play a key role. Science itself cannot address all related matters. Therefore it is important to consider political, economical and social aspects of the actions undertaken, establishing a permanent communication channel between scientists and decision makers. The Rio de Janeiro Botanic Garden is highly committed to the challenge and has already consolidated important contributions for the National GSPC mainstreaming process.

Gustavo Martinelli
National Centre on Flora Conservation
Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden
Rua Pacheco Leao 915,
Rio de Janeiro 22460-030

Box 1
Brazilian Botanic Gardens Action Plan
The Brazilian Botanic Gardens Action Plan was published by the Brazilian Botanic Garden Network in 2004. The Action Plan, which was developed in a consultative process with Brazilian botanic garden staff, indicates the challenges, priorities and future responsibilities, both individual and collective, for Brazilian botanical gardens. It was developed as a national response to the International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and includes 20 key goals for botanic gardens in Brazil to achieve by 2014.  A number of short, medium and long term action points are identified for the achievement of each of the key goals.
Copies of the Action Plan can be downloaded from: