Botanical Gardens: Hot Spots for Biodiversity
May 8, 2019
Land Use & Biodiversity
Botanical gardens are not just pretty places for a nice day out. They are important places that showcase plant diversity and allow researchers to find new ways to protect and increase biodiversity in a world where the planet’s natural resources and wildlife are threatened at an unprecedented rate.
The world’s botanical gardens contain a vast array of plant species, including 41 percent of all those classed as “threatened”, according to a landmark study on diversity in “ex-situ” collections, published in the journal Nature Plants.
This post looks at some of the world’s most spectacular botanical gardens, exploring how plant scientists are helping to preserve biodiversity and how they are contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK
Visited by more than a million tourists each year, the Royal Botanical Gardens are one of London’s top attractions and host the world’s largest and most diverse collection of living plants. The gardens became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003 and are home to over 28,000 taxa of living plants, 8.3 million plant and fungal herbarium specimens, and 30,000 species of plant seeds.
Looking after the collection requires substantial work by a range of experts. , plant science tools are central to the management of Kew Gardens: “we use a number of plant protection products on a regular basis. If we did not have them, the breadth of our collections, plant quality and our capacity to deliver conservation and research would suffer.”
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Florida, United States of America
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden plays an important role in the conservation of South Florida’s endangered plants. Native plant conservation at Fairchild is conducted by a small group of expert botanists and horticulturists who map, monitor, research, and grow plants that are native to South Florida and the Caribbean, with the aim of reducing biodiversity loss.
The garden has a range of projects, including rare plant introductions – like orchids, seed banking and ecological research. One of these projects includes research on the diversity of mangos and related Southeast Asian fruit crops as well as on the genetics of Caribbean palms on the brink of extinction.
Jawaharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, Kerala, India
Since 1979, the KSCSTE-Jawaherlal Nehru tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute has served not only as the largest living collection of trees, bamboo, orchids, medical aromatic and spice plants in South Asia, but as a leading research and development program for tropical plant genetic resources.
The programs at the garden – specifically the garden’s Biotechnology and Bioinformatic Division – are dedicated to the conservation and sustainable utilization of tropical plant diversity. This means their research is dedicated to using genetic technology and plant biotechnology to preserve biodiversity for species native to India and beyond.
Investigation of plant-pollinator interactions at the landscape level and genetic diversity analysis of the wild relatives of certain crops, are just a few of the projects using advancements in plant science for work in biodiversity.
The Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney, Australia
At the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, biodiversity is celebrated in all forms. From carnivorous plants to flowering foliage to water lilies, care is taken on the close to 30-hectare-garden to preserve and nurture their extensive range of plant species.
The garden is home to the PlantClinic which houses the Plant Pathology and Mycology research program and the Plant Disease Diagnostic Unit. These two programs research fungi’s role in causing plant diseases, not just within the gardens but in Australia’s forests and specialty crops. For example, a project was undertaken to characterize Fusaruim Wilt in watermelon, a fungal disease that causes wilting, stunting, and other issues for watermelon farmers.
Research like this is essential to achieving the SDGs, some of which protect, restore, and promote sustainably managed forests, and halt biodiversity loss.