Botanic gardens could save the world's endangered plants — and perhaps us

September 28, 2017, 7:53 a.m.
Cambridge Botanic Gardens in England
Photo: Frank Bach/Shutterstock

The world's botanic gardens are home to about one-third of all known plants, including more than 40 percent of all endangered species, according to a new study.

Researchers found an "astonishing array" of plant diversity when they determined that botanic gardens manage at least 105,634 species. In their study, which was published in the journal Nature Plants, the researchers suggest that the gardens are of "critical importance to plant conservation," and say internationally coordinated efforts are needed to house even more species at risk of extinction.

"The global network of botanic gardens is our best hope for saving some of the world's most endangered plants," said senior author Dr. Samuel Brockington, a researcher in Cambridge's Department of Plant Sciences and curator at the university's own botanic garden, in a statement.

"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."

In their studies, researchers found an imbalance between tropical and temperate plants. About 60 percent of temperate plant species and 25 percent of tropical species are represented in botanical gardens, despite the fact that the majority of plant species are tropical.

As the BBC points out, most botanic gardens are located in the Northern Hemisphere, where tropical species are more difficult to grow. Tropical plants are easier to maintain in their native countries, but there are fewer gardens in the Southern Hemisphere.

In their review of more than 1,100 institutions, the researchers also found that only 10 percent of plant collections are dedicated to threatened species. More work needs to be done to conserve the world's most at-risk plants, Brockington said.

"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."

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