Eleventh hour hope for the planet lies in botany without boundaries
Joint work, international collaboration and equity are key to addressing environmental sustainability in our time. That is the message from Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), where against the backdrop of the global pandemic, scientists, horticulturists and educators are working as part of an international network to protect species from extinction, address the loss of biodiversity and enhance environmental sustainability.
Through global lockdown and working remotely with partners around the world, RBGE experts have continued their work in the race to understand and conserve biodiversity. In the last year alone RBGE has described 72 plant species new to science and collaborated on projects ranging from understanding the diversity of highly threatened dry forests of Peru to guide conservation planning, to working with local communities in Tanzania to support sustainable management of forests to support biodiversity and livelihoods.
The ultimate aim is to prevent further extinction of plants and fungi, upon which all known life depends. The new RBGE Strategy 2021-2026 “Responding to the Biodiversity Crisis and Climate Emergency” out today, outlines future plans for research, conservation and education at the Botanics. The focus is firmly on global collaboration to tackle biodiversity loss, promote sustainable development and provide opportunities to help solve the existential issues of our time. The institute-wide corporate strategy is supported by a dedicated Science and Biodiversity Strategy, also released today.
The scale of the challenges facing the planet are enormous, with vastly accelerated rates of environmental change and biodiversity loss. Giving her backing to the Strategy, Màiri McAllan, Scottish Government Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform said: “Addressing the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change is the single greatest long term challenge of our time. This challenge must be addressed at multiple scales from communities to nations and continents. The Scottish Government is committed to playing our full part in responding to these global emergencies, not only for the people of Scotland but also for people across the planet and the generations to follow.
“As a world leader in a network of over 1,700 botanic gardens in 148 countries, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh will play a vital role in our collective response. This strategy draws together the National Botanical Collection with innovative and impactful science, horticulture, education and public engagement, working in extensive national and international partnerships. It is realistically ambitious in its important contributions to achieving our National Outcomes, delivering the Environment Strategy for Scotland, and in furthering international progress towards transformational environmental change.”
Addressing these challenges requires partnerships, sharing of knowledge and resources, and ‘botanical diplomacy’. Regius Keeper Simon Milne explained: “The common purpose of botanical partnerships for biodiversity conservation transcends geo-political divisions, with collaboration enduring even when international relationships fracture.
“There are more than 1700 botanic gardens around the world. More are being planned and created in recognition of the critical role they play in unlocking the knowledge of plants and the conservation of the world’s plant capital - which sustains our health, wellbeing and economy. We are in an exciting new age of botanic gardens joining forces and working together, and this provides much needed hope for a greener future.”
Significant investment in botanic gardens is evident in Scotland. Earlier this year RBGE started the decant of the globally important collection of living plants from its Glasshouses to temporary homes for the first phase of the Edinburgh Biomes Programme to restore and replace the existing aging infrastructure. In the autumn, work will start on a state-of-the-art plant health centre, creating much needed facilities for researching and mitigating the burgeoning numbers of pathogens devastating plant species and habitats around the world.
RBGE is also prioritising work to play its part in creating a more just and equal society. Simon Milne explained: “Against the terrible background of racial injustice in society and the legacies of colonial history, we as an institute must do all we can to address inequalities. This involves ensuring that RBGE as an organisation delivers equality of opportunity as an employer, as a place to study and learn, and to visit and enjoy. It also involves transforming the cultural and scientific accessibility of the collections in our care which include three million preserved plant specimens from around the world in our Herbarium, and 13,598 living plant species in our four Gardens from over 160 countries. I consider it vital to increase the accessibility of these botanical collections to assist with botanical and horticultural research and education around the world, and to work with our international partners to support plant reintroductions and other conservation initiatives.”
Professor Peter Hollingsworth, RBGE Director of Science and Deputy Keeper concluded: “This decade presents our last chance to keep biodiversity loss and climate change impacts below catastrophic levels. The global pandemic has brought new emphasis on the independencies between human health and that of the environment, sustainable development and social justice. There is new awareness that action is urgent, and a collective response required.”
The Strategy sets a course for the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh for the next five years. It is realistically ambitious in its important contributions to achieving Scottish Government’s National Outcomes, delivering the Environment Strategy for Scotland, and in furthering international progress towards transformational environmental change. It draws together the National Botanical Collection with innovative and impactful science, horticulture, education and public engagement, working in extensive national and international partnerships
New species described since initial lockdown in March 2020 include eight new gingers from Thailand and Lao PDR https://www.biotaxa.org/Phytotaxa/article/view/phytotaxa.505.2.2
- Souvannakhoummane, K., Newman, M.F., Lanorsavanh, S. & Suksathan, P. 2021. Impatiens rostrata (Balsaminaceae), a new species from Khammouane province, Laos, and nine new records. Edinburgh Journal of Botany 78(362): 1-15. https://journals.rbge.org.uk/ejb/article/view/362/278
- Wei, YK., Pendry, CA., et. al. Salvia subviolacea, a New Species from the Himalayas–Hengduan Mountains, China. EJB 78. https://doi.org/10.24823/EJB.2021.334
- Xingtong Wu, Markus Ruhsam, Yafeng Wen, Philip I Thomas, James R P Worth, Xueying Lin, Minqiu Wang, Xinyu Li, Lu Chen, Vichith Lamxay, Nam Le Canh, Gretchen Coffman, The last primary forests of the Tertiary relict Glyptostrobus pensiliscontain the highest genetic diversity, Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research, Volume 93, Issue 3, April 2020, Pages 359–375, https://doi.org/10.1093/forestry/cpz063
- Lehmann, C.E.R., Solofondranohatra, C.L. & Vorontsova, M.S. 2021. Beyond ancient versus anthropogenic for Madagascar's grassy ecosystems. A Reply to: Crowley et al. Proc. R. Soc. B.288: 20210388. https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2021.0388
- Harris, D.J., et al. 2021. Large trees in tropical rain forests require big plots. Plants People Planet 3(3): 282-294. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ppp3.10194
- Ahrends, A., et al. 2021. Detecting and predicting forest degradation: A comparison of ground surveys and remote sensing in Tanzanian forests. Plants People Planet 3(3): 268-281. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ppp3.10189
- Moonlight, P.W., et al. 2021. Expanding tropical forest monitoring into Dry Forests: The DRYFLOR protocol for permanent plots. Plants People Planet 3(3): 295-300. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ppp3.10112
The work of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh:
Building the evidence base, unlocking knowledge and developing understanding of plants and fungi is critically important. Our work ranges from the diversity and distribution of species, and the threats they face, to how they can best be conserved and sustainably used.
Evidence of the increase in pathogens is visible in all gardens and in the countryside. Threats in Britain include Phytophthora ramorum, ash dieback, and Dutch elm disease. Our research is increasing the understanding and prediction of plant health threats to inform action on the ground, to influence policy, and enhance our knowledge of the likely impacts on the natural environment.
Species and habitat restoration are essential conservation tools, not only to rebuild species diversity but also to improve ecosystem health and provide nature-based solutions to climate change, flooding and poor water quality, food production, poverty and the economy.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has one of the richest collections of plant species in the world. Some components are unique. The public Glasshouses – currently closed to the public for the duration of the Edinburgh Biomes project - are home to 7,902 plants representing 2,462 species. The research houses, not open to the public, contain 11,740 plants representing 4,055 species. They currently contain 185 species classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and many others which are ‘new to science’ awaiting formal description and recognition.
RBGE is also home to a globally important Herbarium, with three million preserved plant specimens of significance for research value, a botanical Library and significant Archive.
The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is a leading international research organisation delivering knowledge, education, and plant conservation action around the world. In Scotland, its four Gardens at Edinburgh, Benmore, Dawyck and Logan attract more than a million visitors each year. It operates as a Non Departmental Public Body established under the National Heritage (Scotland) Act 1985, principally funded by the Scottish Government. It is also a registered charity, managed by a Board of Trustees appointed by Ministers. Its mission is “To explore, conserve and explain the world of plants for a better future.” Learn more: www.rbge.org.uk.
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