Tree conservation: A key agenda item at the 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress

Posted on by Kirsty Shaw

The 5th Global Botanic Gardens Congress (5GBGC) organised by BGCI, a lead partner of the Global Trees Campaign, was held in Dunedin, New Zealand, from October 20th – 25th 2013. Bringing together over 300 delegates from 43 countries, the congress was hailed a great success. Tree conservation was high on the agenda of items to be discussed with two pertinent symposia:

  • Strengthening the conservation value of tree collections for ex situ conservation
  • Beyond seed banking: Challenges and opportunities to conserve exceptional species

Botanic gardens are at the forefront of research into seed storage, propagation techniques and environmental education, essential for successful conservation of the world’s tree species. Many botanic gardens partner with GTC on our practical projects and Red Listing efforts and contribute to GTC ex situ surveys and best practice. We bring you highlights from the symposia….

Strengthening the conservation value of tree collections for ex situ conservation

With presentations from key players in global tree conservation and chaired by Gerard Donnelly, President and CEO of The Morton Arboretum, this symposium was sure to attract a lot of interest and discussion.

Sara Oldfield, Secretary General of BGCI and Chair of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group highlighted and commended the vital contribution botanic gardens and arboreta make to tree conservation around the world. As editor of The World List of Threatened Trees (Oldfield, et al., 1998) and involved in the founding of the Global Trees Campaign, Sara Oldfield stressed the importance of tree conservation to symposium participants.

Key examples of inspiring botanic garden-led approaches to tree conservation were highlighted, maintaining valuable ex situ collections for conservation, research and education and moving towards ensuring these collections are genetically viable and capable of supporting reintroduction and restoration programmes. The symposium continued with presentations from staff leading some of these exemplar tree conservation projects:

William McNamara talked about conservation efforts for Acer pentaphyllum, a beautiful yet endangered maple tree native to western Sichuan, China. At Quarryhill Botanical Garden in California a conservation grove of A. pentaphyllum has been planted for conservation education, eventual seed banking and repatriation to Sichuan. (Read more about A. pentaphyllum and the work of Quarryhill Botanic Garden)

Acer pentaphyllum - autumn colours

Acer pentaphyllum – autumn colours

David Rae, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), UK, stressed the importance of partnerships for the conservation of threatened trees. The International Conifer Conservation Programme (ICCP) led by RBGE, has developed a network of over 200 ‘safe sites’ for the purpose of conserving some of the world’s most threatened conifer species.

Nicole Cavendar, from The Morton Arboretum, highlighted the need to synthesize available information from ex situ collections, working together to enable both large and small arboreta to strategically contribute to tree conservation and improve the conservation value of their collections. (Find out more about the work of The Morton Arboretum)

Additional case studies of exemplar tree conservation action undertaken by botanic gardens and arboreta are documented in Integrated conservation of tree species by botanic gardens: A reference manual.

The GTC website was highlighted as a key forum for sharing information and symposium participants were treated to a sneak peak of our new website!


Beyond seed banking: Challenges and opportunities to conserve exceptional species

Quercus georgiana in vitro.

Quercus georgiana in vitro.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and BGCI jointly hosted a half-day workshop at 5GBGC to discuss global conservation of threatened exceptional species. Exceptional plant species can’t be conserved by conventional seed banking methods.This includes species whose seed cannot be banked (including threatened oaks and palms) as well as species like the Florida Ziziphus that don’t produce seed in the wild.

Three areas were discussed at the workshop and will be the focus of future work:

 1. Information Challenges

There is currently no comprehensive resource to identify exceptional plant species, but this information is needed to prioritize and focus ex situ conservation planning and activities. Once these species are identified (ideally via a global list of threatened exceptional species), we need to know what methods are most appropriate for their conservation. All of this requires input from researchers on each species.

Meeting outcomes: Participants agreed that starting with a finite plant group (such as IUCN Red Listed species) and involving a core group of experts with diverse geographic representations would be good approaches for starting a global list. It was mentioned that developing a process for categorizing a species as exceptional could encourage consistency and clarity.

2. Scientific/technical Challenges

Exceptional species biology is often not understood and usually species-specific. In vitro and cryopreservation methods are an integral part of most of the methods that might be used to deal with exceptional species. Additional challenges: specialized expertise is required for handling propagules, methods are generally expensive, and technology transfer to developing countries is difficult.

Meeting outcomes: Encourage training/projects with graduate students, and develop a way to collect and disseminate knowledge on propagation protocols (both successful and unsuccessful).

3. Funding Challenges

Dealing with exceptional species will be more costly than traditional seed banking however the costs are difficult to quantify or standardize, and increased coordination between botanic gardens as well as with academia and industry will likely be necessary.

Meeting outcomes: Suggest pooling funding via a unified marketing campaign that draws broader relevance of exceptional species to environmental, economic, cultural, etc. issues (ex: develop an iconic species, or top ten, per region). This effort would include two audiences: public and research.

Read more about conservation of Quercus georgiana, a threatened exceptional tree species.

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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