Seed conservation in the Indian Ocean Islands

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    Seed Conservation
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Islands are hotspots for threatened species. Mauritius has 24 trees reported on the IUCN Red List to have less than 50 remaining individuals in the wild, Madagascar has 24, and Fiji has 17. This is not surprising as islands often contain endemic species with limited opportunity to become established elsewhere. Red listing and conservation action for threatened trees on islands is therefore a priority for the Global Trees Campaign.

At the start of November 2017, BGCI ran a training course in Mauritius to build capacity for seed collection from Critically Endangered trees. Participants attended from botanic gardens, NGOs, private conservation initiatives and government institutions from Mauritius, Rodrigues, Reunion and the Seychelles.

Over four days, the participants learnt how to collect good quality seed from threatened species to establish conservation collections and prepare for species recovery programmes, through a combination of theory and practical sessions. Theory sessions used the seed conservation training modules developed as part of BGCI’s Global Seed Conservation Challenge. Trainers included staff from BGCI, Missouri Botanical Garden, the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation and Ehsan Dulloo who has a long career working on tropical tree seed with Bioversity International and the World Agroforestry Centre.

As part of the course, the group visited Petrin, a site managed by the Mauritian National Parks and Conservation Service, where participants learnt what equipment they need for seed collection, how to assess whether a population is ready for collection and how to make a herbarium specimen.

Seed collected during the course
Indian Ocean Island training course participants from Mauritius, Rodrigues, Reunion and the Seychelles, and trainers from BGCI and Missouri Botanical Garden
Demonstrating seed collecting equipment in Petrin, Mauritius

The group also visited Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, an island with an area 26 hectares that is situated 800m off the South East coast of mainland Mauritius, managed by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. Ile aux Aigrettes provides habitat for the best remaining population of Diospyros eggretarum, a Critically Endangered tree that used to be a dominant coastal species on Mauritius, but was heavily harvested for timber and fuelwood. On Ile aux Aigrettes the participants made seed collections, performing a population count, taking herbarium vouchers, photographs and filling in data capture forms, and tracking individual mother plants – learning best practice for seed collection from Critically Endangered species.

A seed collection challenge fund has been launched following the training course, which participating institutions can apply to. Funding will be awarded to institutions who submit well-planned proposals to collect seed from Critically Endangered trees for conservation programmes, using the skills they learnt in the training course. The training course and challenge fund will help secure a future for Critically Endangered trees from the Indian Ocean Islands.

The training course also provided an excellent opportunity for staff from botanic gardens across the Indian Ocean Islands to meet each other and learn about their conservation and education programmes. BGCI aims to raise funds for future training courses and collaborative projects to build capacity for conservation in these botanic gardens. If you are interested in supporting this work, or organising a seed collection training course with us in your region, please get in touch using the email addresses below.