Sign up to our newsletter:

Measuring botanic gardens' contributions to plant conservation and education in the United States

Volume 7 Number 2 - July 2010
Andrea Kramer

Background

There is a remarkable amount of plant conservation and environmental education work being carried out efficiently and effectively by botanic gardens in the United States, and BGCI US is working to support this when and wherever possible.  One area of focus in 2010 involves measuring and sharing the true collective impact of this work as progress towards two national strategies and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).

In the United States, the primary national strategy is the Plant Conservation Alliance’s (PCA) National Framework, adopted in 1995.  The PCA is a multi-sector consortium of ten federal government Member Agencies and over 275 non-federal Cooperators (including 53 botanic gardens, as well as other non-profit organizations, foundations, and for-profit companies).  This successful alliance provides funding for on-the-ground plant and habitat conservation and restoration projects via a matching funds grant program, acts as a forum for the exchange of ideas, sharing of best practices, and ultimately seeks to pool resources nationally while building capacity locally, eliminating duplication of effort and increasing program effectiveness.

An additional regional strategy related to the GSPC is the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation, published in 2006.  A number of gardens have used one or more of these strategies to help guide their planning and activities.  However, rather than discussing these strategies, this article focuses on what work is being done now, and how we can best measure and report on its combined impacts.

Measuring and reporting on progress

The topic of measuring and reporting the collective contributions of botanic gardens is not new (see Havens et al. 2006 for an excellent example). However it is a pressing global challenge for BGCI in 2010, as we work to demonstrate the contributions of the world’s botanic garden community towards the many different targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).  It is also a subject whose importance extends well beyond 2010 and the GSPC, as it influences how we perceive ourselves as a community, impacts planning and how we work together in the future, and enhances how we present ourselves to individuals and organizations outside the botanic garden community.  

As a step towards tackling this challenge, this article attempts to summarize the work of botanic gardens in the United States using information and tools currently at-hand.  It also explains ongoing and upcoming projects BGCI US and its partners are working on that will increase our ability to summarize and report on the work taking place at botanic gardens across the United States. 

“The work of your garden, regardless of size, shape or mission, is important, and we want to make sure it is counted.”

BGCI’s online databases – invaluable tools

The most comprehensive tools currently available to quantify the collective power of botanic gardens are BGCI’s online GardenSearch and PlantSearch databases.  Taken together, these databases provide an easy but powerful way of quantifying the positive impacts of botanic gardens.  Here’s how:

GardenSearch is the only global database of botanical expertise and resources in the world’s botanic gardens.  By searching on different keywords, the online interface of this database can be used to locate gardens in different countries with expertise in botanical research, conservation and education.  Expanded off-line searching capabilities allow BGCI staff to perform more specific searches, for example to identify contact information for gardens with research programs on invasive species biology and control in the United States. 

PlantSearch is the only comprehensive global database of plant taxa growing in living collections.  This makes it a powerful tool for the entire botanic garden community. If every garden were to upload a simple list of taxa growing in their collections to this database (a free and easy process; see Hird and Dosmann, 2010), we would be able to determine exactly how much of the world’s plant diversity is being safeguarded by botanic gardens.  PlantSearch is also a useful tool for individual gardens, because any institution that uploads a list of taxa to this online database will automatically receive:  (A) a free conservation assessment of their collections, (B) a way to identify potentially misspelled names in their database and (C) a way to directly connect their living collections with a global network of plant collections, botanic gardens and researchers.

What BGCI’s databases reveal

Have you ever searched in vain for answers to questions like how many visitors do US gardens collectively receive every year, or how much of the world’s plant diversity is safeguarded in US botanic garden plant collections?  Answers to questions like this are difficult, if not impossible to come by and, when available, they are often a very rough estimate at best.  Having a source of quantitative information that can provide answers to these questions would be incredibly useful for the entire botanic garden community. 

In the section below we present summary data generated from information currently in BGCI’s GardenSearch and PlantSearch databases (as of April 10, 2010).  Unfortunately, these databases do not yet provide a comprehensive analysis of all botanic gardens or living collections in the United States, but data presented here is a first step in getting there:
Currently, GardenSearch contains records for 455 botanic gardens in the US.

A closer analysis of data in the GardenSearch database yields an interesting array of statistics on education and conservation programs at botanic gardens and arboreta in the United States.  For example, 121 U.S. gardens have indicated that they have an education program, and 50 of them reported how many education staff this program employs.  All totalled, we can report that at least 383 employees at public gardens in the United States are involved in education programs.  As we continue to gather and update data in the GardenSearch database this number will no doubt increase.

And what can data in the PlantSearch database tell us?  Currently the entire database contains 611,000 records representing 181,000 taxa growing in 700 botanic garden collections in 112 countries around the world.  While this is a significant number, there is much room for improvement, particularly here in the U.S., as this number includes collections information for only 73 U.S. botanic gardens.  See below for details on how we are working to remedy this in 2010 with the North American Collections Assessment.

How to use and contribute to BGCI’s databases

As powerful as these databases are, they are only as useful as the data in them.  BGCI tries to update information in GardenSearch whenever possible, but with over 2,600 botanic gardens worldwide, this is a challenging task.  We need your help to make sure information for your garden is correct.  For this, we’ve made it easy for garden staff to get free access to their institution’s online GardenSearch profile, regardless of BGCI membership.  Do you have a Garden Editor account?  If not, visit www.bgci.org/garden_apply.php to set one up.  By updating information in your institution’s profile, you can ensure your contributions are counted in global analyses and reports generated by BGCI summarizing the contributions of botanic gardens to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation in 2010 and beyond.  And once you have access to your institution’s GardenSearch account, it is easy to upload a simple list of taxa in your collections to PlantSearch to make sure your collections are counted.

“Apply to become a Garden Editor and create or update your garden’s online BGCI profile!”

 

Other projects and resources

North American Collections Assessment: For gardens in the United States, Canada and Mexico, there has never been a better time to upload collections information to PlantSearch.  In 2010, BGCI US is partnering with the United States Botanic Garden and the Arnold Arboretum to carry out this assessment, using PlantSearch as an easy way for gardens to make their collections count while getting important information in return.  All gardens contributing information on living plant, seed bank or tissue culture collections before August 1st will ensure that their collections will count in (a) BGCI’s report to the Convention on Biological Diversity as progress towards Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (60% of threatened plants in ex situ collections) and (b) an upcoming report on Conserving North America’s Threatened Plants. For more information on this project, visit www.bgci.org/usa/makeyourcollectionscount. We are grateful for the contributions of collaborators on this project, including the Center for Plant Conservation, the American Public Gardens Association, Seeds of Success program, Canadian Botanical Conservation Network, and others.

Botanical Capacity Assessment Project:  In partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden, BGCI US has been working to quantify the botanical resources and infrastructure present in the U.S. government, academic, and private sectors (including botanic gardens), to identify critical gaps in capacity and make recommendations to fill them.  We are grateful to the nearly 100 staff from botanic gardens that joined over 1,500 others from across the nation in taking surveys developed for this project.  Your responses helped demonstrate the vitally important role botanic gardens play in filling gaps in botanical education, training, research and application around the United States.  Find more information on this project, including a recently-published report and executive summary, at www.bgci.org/usa/bcap

Assessing contributions to the PCA National Framework:  In 2010, BGCI US will continue working with the Plant Conservation Alliance to assess contributions to the PCA’s National Framework to help guide its evolution in a changing climate.  This nationwide, multi-sector project will utilize a combination of surveys, case studies and, for botanic gardens, information in GardenSearch and PlantSearch.  This provides a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate the important contributions of botanic gardens, and is yet another reason to make sure information on your garden is up to date in these databases.

References

BGCI. 2010. GardenSearch, available online at www.bgci.org/garden_search.php and PlantSearch, available online at www.bgci.org/plant_search.php.Summary statistics downloaded April 10, 2010.

          Havens, K., P. Vitt, M. Maunder, E. O. Guerrant, and K. Dixon.2006. Ex Situ Plant Conservation and Beyond. BioScience 56: 525-531.

            Hird, A. and M. Dosmann. 2010. Getting the most out of your BGCI Plant Upload. BGjournal 7(1): 18-21.

PCA. 2010. The Plant Conservation Alliance.Information at www.nps.gov/plants and www.bgci.org/usa/pca.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to the many individuals who have helped focus this work and make these projects happen, including Katie Everson (BGCI US volunteer), Kayri Havens (co-chair of the Botanical Capacity Assessment Project Advisory Board), Peggy Olwell (Chair of the Plant Conservation Alliance), and Abby Hird, Ray Mims and Michael Dosmann, partners on the North American Collections Assessment. 

Andrea Kramer
BGCI US Executive Director
BGCI at Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe
IL 60022
USA