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Securing Protection of Rare and Endangered Plants in the Russian Far East

Volume 3 Number 2 - July 2006

Alexander V. Galanin

The Botanic Garden Institute of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences: securing protection of rare and endangered plants in the Russian far east

Apart from the North Caucasus, the South Russian far east has the richest plant diversity in Russia. The region, including the Amur River Basin, Khabarovsk region, mountainous region of Sikhote-Alin Range, Khasan District and southern portion of Primorskii Krai has over 4,000 vascular plants.

The reason for such high floristic diversity is due to a complex geological history, weather extremes and a centennial cyclic climate change between the arid and humid epochs. The area was not glaciated in the Pleistocene as in northern Europe and during the humid epochs, forest species were dispersed westward to the Khentei Mountains and during arid epochs, steppe species spread eastward reaching the Sikhote-Alin Mountains. The fall of temperature in glacial times caused migrations of boreal and arctic-boreal species southward, so they reached the mountains of Korea.  This explains the complex mixture of geographic and genetic elements in the local floras of the South far east. Typical examples include Ayan Spruce (Picea ajanensis) and Shrub Pine (Pinus pumila), in the Sikhote-Alin vegetation, which quite often grow with Aralia manshurica and Rhododendron fauriei. Another example is Filifolium sibiricum, a dominant species of the Dahurian steppes which inhabits meadows of the Khanka Lake area.

Almost half of the plant species included in the Red Book of the Russian Federation. Plants (1988) (83 species including 6 cryptogamic plants and 6 Gymnospermae) are found in the southern part of the far eastern region. This includes 24 woody plants such as Microbiota decussata. A significant number (22 of 83) endangered species grow on Sakhalin Island and/or Kuril Islands. Many species of the South Russian far east are at the northern or southern limits of their range and are therefore rare, sensitive and vulnerable, particularly to global warming.  However, anthropogenic factors such as logging, forest fires and industrial and urban development are more of a threat to rare species than climate change and the construction of dams and power stations threaten species of wetlands and marshes.

Nature reserves and national parks, in the South Russian far east (13), play an important role in the conservation of endangered species, but these species are vulnerable due to few and small populations and are easily disturbed.  For this reason the priority of botanic gardens is to conserve rare and endangered species through living collections.  The Botanic Garden of the Far Eastern Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (FEB RAS) has collections with many rare species of the Manchurian flora (e.g. Araliaceae, paeonies, irises, lilies, Trapa nutans).  The collections now include about 50% of all endangered vascular plants of the Ussuri flora (mixed conifer-broadleaved zone of South Russian far east) listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation. These are:  Magnolia obovata, Microbiota decussata, Taxus cuspidata, Juniperus sargentii, J. rigida, Rhododendron fauriei, R. schlippenbachii, Pinus densiflora, Aralia cordata, Betula schmidtii, Viburnum wrightii, Dioscorea nipponica, Armeniaca manshurica, Quercus dentata, Iris ensata, I.   ventricosa, Cypripedium calceolus, C. macranthon, Paeonia lactiflora, P. obovata,  etc.  This work requires the development of horticultural techniques (e.g. potting compost, seed storage, mycorhiza treatment, pest control).  Every year the Garden undertakes expeditions to the South Primorskii Krai, Sikhote-Alin Range, Amur River Basin and Sakhalin Island to collect seed and investigate habitats of native species.

The Garden has two satellite gardens, Blagoveshensk, Amur region and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Island, which significantly widens the scope for growing rare and endangered species, because many plants do not tolerate the climate of Vladivostok.  There is a plan to create another satellite garden in Nakhodka, 500 km north of Vladivostok.  It is also hoped that the network of botanic gardens in the Russian far east will be enlarged by botanic gardens in Khabarovsk, Magadan and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii.  The endangered species of the region, including Wrangel Island and South Primorskii Krai can then be held as living collections. Attempts to grow Arctic and Low Arctic plants in Vladivostok Botanic Garden have not been successful.

Another solution is to increase the awareness of local people and encourage endangered species to become fashionable and planted in municipal parks and local private gardens rather than increasing the number of individuals in botanic gardens.  Botanic garden staff provide information to the public through popular guidebooks, booklets, articles and offer free advice and planting stock for local residents to grow endangered native plants in their gardens.  These taxa will then be conserved in cultivation.  Today Taxus cuspidata, Magnolia, Paeonia, lilies and Rhododendron are grown in urban landscapes, especially around offices and universities in Vladivostok. Far eastern plants are also found in the garden collections of European Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic countries.  Every year the botanic garden distributes a seed list to 250-300 organizations which includes endangered native Manchurian plants.  For the last three years the number of visitors to botanic gardens has increased several times and reached over 80,000 in 2005.  A garden website was created in 2005 and is constantly updated to promote plant conservation.

It is not enough to declare species as endangered and list them in the Red Book; their habitats need to be studied, they need to be proactively conserved in nature, propagated in botanic gardens and grown in private collections, gardens, and parks.

About the Author

Alexander V. Galanin is with the Botanical Garden - Far Eastern Branch, Russian Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok