A Global Conservation Consortium for Oak
The Global Conservation Consortium for Oak brings together the world’s oak experts, conservationists, and the botanic garden community to ensure that no wild species of oak becomes extinct.
Status of projectOngoing
BGCI is promoting the concept of a cost-efficient, rational, botanic garden-centered global system for the conservation and management of plant diversity. This system will aim to collect, conserve, characterise and cultivate samples from all of the world’s rare and threatened plants as an insurance policy against their extinction in the wild and as a source of plant material for human innovation, adaptation and resilience.
BGCI is establishing a series of consortia with specialist knowledge of particular genera that are technically challenging to conserve and manage. In alignment with the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), these consortia will deploy their unique sets of skills for effective conservation of these genera to prevent species extinctions.
Comprising around 450 species, oaks are found in forest and shrubland ecosystems throughout the northern hemisphere. As keystone species, they exhibit an astonishing array of morphological and ecological diversity, thriving in the subtropical forests of southeast Asia, the deserts of Mexico, and the temperate hardwood forests of North America. Their two centers of diversity are in Mexico and eastern Asia, both of which harbour nearly 200 native species. Oaks are prized for their sturdy timber and are valuable sources of wood for building ships, wine barrels, and fine furniture. They are the source of many other non-timber products such as cork, tannins and nutritious acorns for feeding livestock. These iconic trees grace the flags of many nations and states and hold cultural and religious value for people around the world.
Despite their great economic, ecological, and cultural value, many oaks are under threat of extinction. Threats including habitat destruction, climate change, modification of natural systems, pests, and diseases are impacting oak populations around the world. As part of the Global Tree Assessment initiative, The Morton Arboretum is leading efforts to compile IUCN Red List threat assessments for all of the oak species. The results of these efforts reveal that at least one-quarter of all oak species in the Americas are of conservation concern. This proportion is likely to be even higher in the East Asian diversity hotspot. The Global Red List of Oaks, including a comprehensive ex situ collections survey, will be published in 2020, an update to the 2007 Red List of Oaks (Oldfield and Eastwood, 2007) including more than twice number of species previously assessed.
Species identified as at risk of extinction require conservation action to ensure that they not only survive but are also resilient to the myriad threats they face. This entails protection of threatened wild populations of plants in their natural habitats, and ex situ conservation in botanic gardens and seed banks. Because oaks are “exceptional species” – their acorns do not survive the low temperature and humidity conditions of a standard seed bank – these species require alternative methods for effective ex situ conservation of genetic diversity. Living collections of trees and cryopreservation of embryos and vegetative (growth) tissues are two solutions to this challenge, but these require more time, expertise, and management than standard seed banking. Thus, oaks are in urgent need of a coordinated, global effort to efficiently and effectively preserve species and populations both in their native habitats and in ex situ collections.
A Global Conservation Consortium for Oak
One consortium is focused on conserving species of oak (genus Quercus). The Global Conservation Consortium for Oak (GCCO) brings together the world’s oak experts, conservationists, and the botanic garden community to ensure that no wild species of oak becomes extinct. Established in 2018 in partnership with BGCI, the American Public Gardens Association, the Center for Plant Conservation, and ArbNet, and led by The Morton Arboretum, the GCCO works in a coordinated and collaborative way to achieve the following objectives:
- Identify and prioritise species of greatest conservation concern, through Red List conservation assessments;
- Ensure that all Critically Endangered and Endangered species are conserved in their natural habitats;
- Undertake and facilitate applied research on threatened species (e.g. conservation biology, population genetics, population structure, taxonomy);
- Increase representation of threatened species (and genetic diversity) in ex situ collections;
- Establish global networks of ex situ conservation collections, ensuring that these are scientifically informed, appropriately managed, genetically representative and resilient to a changing climate;
- Establish a network of experts to work collaboratively to undertake and facilitate taxonomic research in poorly defined groups of species;
- Build capacity to empower and mobilise in-country partners, practitioners and the wider community to act for the conservation of threatened oak species;
- Increase public awareness and engagement of threatened oak species and their conservation;
- Build on current species conservation programmes, addressing the specific needs of threatened species strategically, utilising partner expertise to help achieve objectives.
The GCCO was initially established with a focus in North America, but is expanding to include members from around the world, with a focus on gardens in and near the diversity hotspots for oaks.
For more information about the GCCO please contact Murphy Westwood, Director of Global Tree Conservation at The Morton Arboretum.