Scottish Biodiversity

Primula scotica

The RBGE Science Programme has a strong focus on Scottish biodiversity. This page provides a short summary of the different areas in which we are actively working on Scottish biodiversity, and provides links through to more detailed information elsewhere on this website.



A key aspect of RBGE's work is establishing 'which species grow where'. The Herbarium at RBGE is the best collection of Scottish plants in the world. These specimens are reference points for taxonomic, identification and distributional studies and also provide base-line data to underpin conservation projects. 

As well as being a world-class repository of international botanical information, the Library at RBGE represents a specialised bibliographic resource relating to Scottish plant biodiversity. This ranges from all published local floras in Scotland, journals dedicated to plants in Scotland such as the Botanical Journal of Scotland, and many hundreds of unpublished reports on Scottish biodiversity.

In addition we hold historically important archive material pertaining to Scottish plants, including phenological data and the archives of the Botanical Society of Scotland, the Scottish Alpine Botanical Club and the Cryptogamic Society of Scotland. 

A large collection of photographs of Scottish plants is housed at RBGE and includes images of native higher plants, bryophytes, fungi, lichens and algae as well as more general habitat photographs. Visit the image collections web page for more information. 

Research areas and projects

Flora Celtica
Flora Celtica is an international project co-ordinated by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions of Europe, focusing initially on Scotland. The project conducts research into traditional knowledge and contemporary uses of the native flora, both domestic and commercial. 

Scottish Plants Project
The Scottish Plants Project undertakes monitoring and recovery work on vulnerable plants in Scotland.  In collaboration with Horticulture many of these plants are grown to establish conservation collections.  This gives understanding of their growth requirements and ensures plants are available for potential reintroductions under the Target 8 Project

Higher plant taxonomy
Scotland has 1,000 native vascular plant species, many of which are the subject of conservation concern. Research at RBGE includes contributing towards the production of local floras (such as the Flora of the Lothians project), and providing an identification service for health, forensic and general public enquiries.

Population genetics research at RBGE is using molecular approaches to assist with the conservation of rare plants in Scotland, and also to understand the processes underlying their evolution. Visit the Genetics and Conservation section web pages for more information.

Scotland is a biodiversity hotspot for lichens and is home to some 1,500 species. Research on lichens at RBGE is aimed at (i) taxonomy and floristics: identifying lichen species, finding out where they occur, (ii) ecology: how large their populations are, to what degree populations naturally fluctuate, what their habitat requirements are, and (iii) protection: how threats to species and habitats may be avoided through conservation. Visit our Lichenology web pages for more information about lichen research at RBGE.

Algae are an important component of Scotland's biodiversity and are the dominant plants of the ocean and most lakes and rivers. RBGE's research on algae focuses on understanding what algal diversity is present, the mechanisms underlying its evolution and the development of automated identification systems for specific groups. Visit the algae research web pages or visit Algae World, RBGE's project site dedicated to algae.

Fungi play a vital role in the functioning of Scottish ecosystems yet little is known about what species are present and where they occur. Research at RBGE focuses on cataloguing the diversity of fungi that are present, establishing the diversity among pathogenic rust fungi and assessing the dynamics of mycorrhizal fungal diversity in relation to higher plant diversity. Visit the mycology web pages for more information. Also find out more about our series of mycological publications, alternatively visit the Scottish sub-arctic willow site, which offers information about mycorrhizas.

Scotland has an internationally important Bryophyte flora with over 800 species having been recorded (about 60% of the European total). Research on Bryophytes at RBGE focuses on assessing the diversity of species present, assessing their habitat requirements, conservation threats and mechanisms of evolution. Research is also underway to explore the potential of Scottish bryophytes as a source of bioactive compounds for medical research. Visit the bryology web pages for more information about bryology at RBGE.

Research on ferns at RBGE focuses on their evolution and conservation. The historical movements of fern species in response to glacial cycles, the processes by which fern species arise, and how best they can be conserved in areas where they are under threat are topics that are currently being investigated.

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