Conserving North America’s Threatened Plants
Only 39 percent of the nearly 10,000 North American plant species threatened with extinction are protected by being maintained in collections, according to the first comprehensive listing of the threatened plant species in Canada, Mexico and the United States. Seed banks or living collections maintained by public gardens and conservation organizations across North America provide an insurance policy against extinction for many threatened species.
The North American Collections Assessment – conducted collaboratively by Botanic Gardens Conservation International U.S., the U.S. Botanic Garden, and Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum – found that 3,681 of 9,494 of North America’s most threatened plant species are maintained in 230 collections. Much more collaborative work is needed to conserve North America’s botanical wealth and to provide true protection against extinction, say the report’s authors.
Andrea Kramer, Botanic Gardens Conservation International U.S. executive director, said, “These assessment results are hopeful, but also a call to action. For many public gardens, this report marks the first time their potential to assist in the conservation effort has been recognized. We hope this is a watershed moment.”
“As the U.S. Botanic Garden, we felt a critical need for a common baseline of understanding among the entire conservation community,” said Holly Shimizu, U.S. Botanic Garden executive director. “To move forward together to protect North America’s native plants, we have to understand where we are today. Now that we know both what is threatened and what needs to be protected, there is a solid foundation on which to build future conservation work.”
“One of the lessons we learned from this assessment is how important it is to curate for conservation,” said Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum. “Curators and horticulturists have not always considered conservation value as they go about their routines. Yet by participating in this assessment, many for the very first time saw the direct value of their plants in bolstering efforts to conserve our threatened flora. We hope this becomes a new paradigm in collections management.”
Assessment results indicate that North America did not reach the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation’s (GSPC) Target 8 goal set in 2002 of protecting 60 percent of threatened plant species in collections by 2010. While botanical organizations across Canada, Mexico and the United States are making progress to achieve these targets, the report found that 3,500 or more additional threatened plant species will need to be added to current collections to meet the new GSPC goal of conserving 75 percent of known threatened species in North America by 2020. This will require nearly doubling the current capacity.
The Assessment calls for the strengthening of conservation networks and collaboration in conservation planning and data sharing. Institutions are urged to contribute plant lists to BGCI’s PlantSearch database and update them regularly. It is crucial to increase cooperation and coordination among a broad and diverse network of gardens and conservation organizations with different expertise and resources. To win this race against extinction, conservation organizations will need to prioritize the development of genetically diverse and secure collections to ensure meaningful protection of threatened plants.
Additional information and the full North American Collections Assessment can be found at http://www.bgci.org/usa/naca.