Global Survey of Ex situ Conifer Collections highlights the need for increased conservation action

Posted on by Kirsty Shaw
A Global Survey of Ex situ Conifer Collections has analysed how well represented threatened conifers are in botanic garden and arboreta collections around the world and highlights priority taxa for conservation action.

A global reassessment of the conservation status of the world’s conifers was undertaken and up-to-date assessments published on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in July 2013. This showed that 34% of conifers (292 taxa) are globally threatened with extinction.

In response to this, collection lists were requested from botanic garden and arboreta worldwide to determine how well represented threatened conifers are in ex situ collections. Information provided to the BGCI PlantSearch database shows that 81% of globally threatened conifer taxa are present in over 800 ex situ collections. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation calls for 80% of threatened taxa to be held in ex situ collections by 2020. According to data provided, this target is being met, but further analysis shows that 134 threatened conifer taxa are known in very few or no collections. These are highlighted as priorities for establishing a more effective safety net against extinction of threatened conifers.

Thuja orientalis. Endangered. Reported as held in 17 ex situ collections worldwide.

Thuja orientalis. Endangered. Reported as held in 17 ex situ collections worldwide.

Institutions were asked to provide additional information on the threatened conifers held in collections, including provenance and number of individuals. This information reveals that the large majority of wild source collections of threatened conifers consist of only 1-5 individuals, falling far short of the amount of material needed to carry out successful recovery and restoration programmes for wild populations.

Conifers are popular for their ornamental and landscaping value and have long been selected for planting in private gardens and public parks. The report highlights a strong collection focus on cultivars, accounting for almost 50% of the records provided. This figure is likely under reported as cultivars were not the focus of the call for data. If staff and financial resources applied to maintaining cultivar and horticultural collections were redirected towards maintaining collections of threatened taxa, much greater conservation impact could be achieved.

The Global Survey of Ex situ Conifer Collections provides recommendations aimed at increasing capacity for threatened conifer conservation, improving management of ex situ collections, and enabling supply of ex situ material for recovery and restoration programmes. The report also highlights case studies of best practice to inspire further action. Case studies include the cross institution collaboration achieved through the International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) and successful examples of pest and disease management for threatened conifers in the U.S.A carried out by the USDA Forest Service.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Endangered. Reported as held in 316 ex situ collections worldwide.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides. Endangered. Reported as held in 316 ex situ collections worldwide.




Hard copies of the Global Survey of ex situ Conifer Collections are available to purchase from the BGCI publications catalogue and the full report is available to download from the Global Trees Campaign and BGCI websites. Click here to read the full report





As conifers are such a popular tree group, their prevalence in ex situ collections is much greater than for other tree groups. For example, the Global Survey of Ex situ Magnoliaceae Collections carried out by the Global Trees Campaign in 2008 highlighted that more than half of the Critically Endangered or Endangered Magnolia taxa were not reported in collections. Conservation action must be stepped up to safeguard the globally threatened tree species that are the focus of the Global Trees Campaign. Visit our resources section to access Red List reports, other ex situ surveys, guidance briefs and manuals to increase capacity for threatened tree conservation.

Written by Kirsty Shaw

Kirsty is a Head of Ecological Restoration and Tree Conservation at Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), working on the Global Trees Campaign and botanic garden led forest restoration initiatives in Africa.

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