University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars > Evaluating ex-situ conservation of threatened plants in the botanic garden network

Evaluating ex-situ conservation of threatened plants in the botanic garden network

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Botanic gardens offer the opportunity to conserve and manage a wide range of plant diversity ex situ, and in situ in the broader landscape, and have a major role to play in preventing plant species extinctions. The role of botanic gardens in plant conservation is based on two expectations. First that there is no technical reason why any plant species should become extinct, given the array of techniques available to plant conservationists including seed banking, cultivation, tissue culture, assisted migration, species recovery, and ecological restoration. Second, that botanic gardens possess a unique set of skills which encompass finding, identifying, collecting, conserving and growing plant diversity across the entire taxonomic spectrum. Here we test these assertions by quantifying, for the first time, how plant diversity is currently conserved and managed in the world’s botanic gardens. Our analyses reveal that the world’s botanic gardens conserve and manage an astonishing amount of the world’s diversity, with 105,634 unique species in their living collections and seed banks, equating to 30% of all plant species diversity. Furthermore, as a testament to the conservation strength of the network, at least 18,173 or 40% of threatened plant species are conserved ex-situ in the living collections and seed banks of botanic garden collections. But against this, our analyses also demonstrate a number of challenges: the temperate bias of the botanic garden network means that up to 70% of tropical species are not documented in ex-situ collections; the horticultural bias towards vascular and flowering plant species ensures that key evolutionary and ecologically critical non-vascular plant lineages are poorly represented and unprotected, and; the collective response of botanic gardens to extinction risk is not clearly detectable with only 15% of global capacity devoted to the cultivation of threatened species. We argue that the global botanic garden network has fundamental and exceptional role to play but identify the following actions to enhance our protection of the world’s plant biodiversity: 1) more botanic garden capacity in biodiverse areas of the world; 2) development of horticultural expertise and techniques towards unrepresented lineages; 3) an enhanced global bioinformatic tool set for living collections; 4) better strategic co-ordination of targeted acquisitions within the network particularly with respect to threatened plants, and; 5) the need to work closely with other land-based sectors to realise the conservation potential of the botanic garden collections in the in-situ landscape.

This talk is part of the Plant Sciences Departmental Seminars series.

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