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Crucial Role That Botanic Gardens Play In Protecting The World's Plant Species
2018-12-31 10:35:56
Geraldine Rodriguez Gian Saldevia

[리서치페이퍼=Geraldine Rodriguez Gian Saldevia 기자]

Photo by: Anatolii Lyzun via Shutterstock

The world’s botanic gardens hold at least 30 percent of all known plant species and 41 percent of those plants that have been classified as "threatened." This information is according to the most comprehensive analysis ever done to date of diversity in "ex-situ" collections, which are plants that have been conserved outside their natural habitats.

The results of the study were released in the journal Nature Plants.The study discovered that the global network of botanic gardens preserves living plants that represent almost two-thirds of plant "genera," which is the classification above species, and over 90 percent of plant families.

However, a group of researchers from the University of Cambridge unearthed a significant imbalance between the temperate and tropical regions.Astonishingly, the vast majority of all plant species grown outside of natural habitats are held in the northern hemisphere.

Thus, almost 60 percent of all temperate plant species have been represented in botanic gardens.However, only 25 percent of their tropical counterparts were represented.This revelation is especially troubling, since the tropical plant species are by far the majority of the world's plants.

To conduct the study, the team of researchers analyzed datasets compiled by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).They cross-referenced the working list of all known plant species, a current total of 350,699, with the species records of a third of botanic gardens on the planet, a total of 1,116 institutions.This, they say, provides a "minimum estimate" of the diversity of plants held in all botanic gardens.

However, while botanic gardens contain almost half of all threatened plant species, only about 10 percent of overall storage capacity has been designated to such plants.The team of researchers proposes that botanic gardens are of “critical importance to plant conservation.” They believe international coordination is needed to house even more species that are at risk of extinction, in particular, those endangered plants from tropical climates.

The senior author of the study is Dr.Samuel Brockington, a researcher at Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences, as well as a curator at the University's own Botanic Garden.He explained that the global network of botanic gardens is the world’s best hope for saving at least some of the globe's most endangered plant species.

Brockington said:  ”Currently, an estimated one-fifth of plant diversity is under threat, yet there is no technical reason why any plant species should become extinct.Botanic gardens protect an astonishing amount of plant diversity in cultivation, but we need to respond directly to the extinction crisis. If we do not conserve our plant diversity, humanity will struggle to solve the global challenges of food and fuel security, environmental degradation, and climate change.”

The researchers revealed that the plants that are not currently grown in the botanic gardens tend to be far more interesting than those housed in them.An example is the Hydrostachys polymorpha, which is an African aquatic plant that only grows in fast flowing rivers and streams, thus making it difficult to grow in a botanical garden.Another is the tiny parasitic plant called Pilostyles thurberi, which only grows a few millimeters long and lives entirely within the stem tissue of desert shrubs.

Species that come from the most ancient plant lineages referred to as "non-vascular" plants are currently almost nonexistent in botanic gardens, with only about 5 percent of all species currently residing in the global network of botanic gardens.These include plants, such as liverworts and mosses.

Brockington said the non-vascular species are the living representatives of the first plants to colonize the planet.He explained that within such plants, the key moments in the early evolutionary history of life on earth are captured and stored.Hence they are essential for the understanding of how plants evolved.

There are different botanical gardens placed all over the world.From the breathtaking new Gardens by the Bay in Singapore to London’s renowned Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.Another famous garden is the Cambridge University Botanic Garden, which was laid down by Darwin’s mentor John Stevens Henslow.The 40-acre Garden is the largest University-owned botanic garden in the world, hosting over 8,000 species of plants and other sections that help support university teaching and research.These network of global botanical gardens host a total of 500 million visitors every year.

Dr.Paul Smith, the study co-author and secretary general of BGCI, was recorded saying that as a professional community, the botanic gardens conserve and manage a far greater array of plant diversity than any other sector.He was, however, quick to say that there was still much more than they could all do.

Smith expressed himself saying that the study was of crucial importance to the botanic world because it would ensure that efforts are targeted much more efficiently, ensuring that the global network of gardens work hand in hand to protect the world’s plant species--that these do not become extinct when they could have been protected earlier.

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