Where we work
- Our science is underpinned by international collaborations
- We work in more than 35 countries around the world
RBGE is a highly international scientific botanic garden. Our science builds on collaborative partnerships, many established over decades or even centuries of working together. Our work is guided by key international policies including the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Our research has a strong focus on Scotland, the Middle East, China, the Himalayan region, South-East Asia, tropical South America, and Africa. We work in species-rich countries where the need for biodiversity knowledge is most urgent, and are involved in extensive training and capacity building programmes. Our research is tightly integrated with our living and preserved collections, and the geographical focus of our work programme also reflects the strengths of these collections.
Scotland has an outstanding diversity of cryptogamic plants (mosses and liverworts) and fungi. It is home to the best remaining examples of globally rare temperate rainforest habitats characterised by epiphytic lichens and bryophytes, as well as iconic habitats such as the Caledonian pinewoods, blanket peat, and machair. RBGE has extensive research, conservation and outreach programmes aimed at understanding the plant diversity of Scotland, how it is likely to respond to environmental change, how to develop management solutions to protect its plants, and how to connect plants and people with the aim of enhancing sustainability and environmental stewardship. Current projects include:
- Taxonomic research and species discovery with a focus on bryophytes and lichens
- Investigating the effect on Scottish biodiversity of global change (climate change, plant disease) using predictive modelling, coupled with long-term field monitoring and experimentation
- Developing best-practice in ex situ conservation and the translocation of threatened species
- Deploying genetic techniques to support environmental biomonitoring and also to study the conservation biology of rare and threatened species
- Integrating biodiversity conservation, green space, and health and wellbeing into urban planning.
Our work has a particular focus on the Cairngorms National Park, the Atlantic temperate rainforest, and the Edinburgh Living Landscape. We work very closely with Scottish Natural Heritage, and a wide range of organisations to help deliver the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. We also work very closely with Scotland’s natural history organisations and citizen science community to support biological recording. Our living collection contains 154 of Scotland's 181 threatened vascular plant species, and our herbarium contains a comprehensive collection of Scottish plants (c.350,000 specimens, dating back to 1747).
For more about our work in Scotland, see our Scottish Biodiversity pages.
The Middle East
Around 20,000 plant species are found in this politically-fragile region. There are huge gaps in our knowledge of the region's biodiversity and the systems of which it is part. Moreover, the region faces serious environmental and societal challenges such as migration, poverty, security, habitat loss, changes in traditional land management practices, and climate change.
With recent projects in more than 15 Middle Eastern countries, we work closely with local and international partners to address knowledge gaps and tackle a wide range of challenges.
Current projects include:
- The Flora of the Arabian Peninsula and Socotra
- IUCN Red listing of Trees and endemic plants of Arabian Peninsula
- Identification of Important Plant Areas across the Middle East
- Integration of information on plant evolution and cultural heritage into conservation planning on Socotra
- Reduction of environmental degradation in Afghanistan through alternative fuel use
- Sustainable urban design
For more information, please see our Centre for Middle Eastern Plants pages.
China possesses extremely high levels of plant diversity which supports local communities and livelihoods but which is also threatened by population growth and rapid environmental change. Our work in China is built on over 100 years of botanical collaborations, exploration and plant collecting. Current projects focus on floristics, monography, phylogenetic research, species conservation, genomics, and land use change, e.g.:
- Using remote sensing, GIS and modelling to understand land use change in China and neighbouring countries (see our Global Environmental Change page)
- Using genetic and genomic technologies for telling plant species apart to support conservation and sustainable use (for instance, i Gesneriaceae)
- DNA based analysis of the diet of Giant Panda
- Understanding the diversity, distribution, and evolutionary history of selected plant groups (e.g. Begonia, Gesneriaceae)
- Rhododendron conservation and evolution
RBGE is twinned with the Kunming Institute of Botany, Yunnan, and we jointly run the Lijiang Field Station on the Yulong Xue Shan in SW China. We collaborate with many Chinese botanical institutes including South China Botanical Garden, Beijing Botanical Garden, the Guangxi Institute of Botany, e Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, and the China Conservation and Research Centre for Giant Panda. We hold the largest collection of wild-origin living Chinese plants outside of China, and were an editorial centre of the Flora of China.
The Himalayan Region
The Himalayas are Earth’s greatest mountain range. They include its highest peaks, and have profound effects on Asia’s climate, biodiversity and cultures. The ecosystem services provided by the Himalayas, especially their water resources, sustain billions of people and plant biodiversity is a key component of this system. The Himalayas are a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, but climate change is already having profound impacts. These impacts are projected to be more profound here than in any region apart from the Arctic, so there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of the region’s biodiversity. RBGE’s connections with the Himalayas and South Asia date back more than 200 years, and we run a diverse programme of collaborative research which contributes to conservation and sustainable development. Our work includes:
- Coordination of the Flora of Nepal project, following our lead in the production of the Flora of Bhutan (1975-2002)
- Publication of Nepal: an introduction to the natural history, ecology and human environment of the Himalayas, the companion volume to the Flora of Nepal
- The creation of innovative publications providing scientific information to diverse users, known as 'Plants and You'
- Characterisation of invasive plants and creation of a public awareness campaign to help their control
- Regional monographic and phylogenetic studies in the context of Himalayan uplift
- Studies of the history of botanical research within the region, including research into archival material and botanical art
Our Tropical Diversity team have projects throughout South-East Asia including Malesia (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea), Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The region is globally recognised as containing massive levels of species diversity and for holding many internationally important biodiversity hotspots. However, this biodiversity is under extreme threat from deforestation, forest conversion, and population growth.
Our work in South-East Asia has been built up over the past 50 years in collaboration with a wide range of institutes and individuals in the region. This has included exploration, plant collecting, many floristic, monographic and phylogenetic publications and joint species conservation activities.
We currently collaborate with the following research Institutes:
- Forestry Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
- The Research Center for Biology, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)
- Centre for Plant Conservation Bogor Botanic Gardens, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)
- Sarawak Forestry Corporation
- Singapore Botanic Gardens
Visit our South-East Asia page for more information.
Tropical South America
Tropical South America possesses globally-significant hotspots of plant diversity, all of which are threatened by climatic and land use changes. Our work in tropical South America focuses on the Andes of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina, as well as northeastern Brazil. Current projects focus on floristics, monography, phylogenetic research, habitat conservation, crop wild relatives, and land use change, including:
- Linking species distributions to ecosystem functions and services across tropical South America
- Understanding the effects of climatic and land use changes on ecosystem composition across tropical South America
- Producing the first taxonomically-verified checklist of the lowland Amazon rainforest
- Examining floristic patterns in Seasonally Dry Tropical Forests across the Americas
- Using Species Distribution Models to understand the distribution of biomes across northeastern Brazil
- Uncovering the evolutionary history of, and discovering species in, selected plant groups (including Begonia, Solanaceae, Gesneriaceae, and Berberidaceae)
- Identifying pathogens of the important South American genus Solanaceae, which includes the wild relatives of some of our most valuable crops
RBGE collaborates with leading botanical institutes across South America including: the Universidad de Los Andes (Colombia); Universidade Estadual Feira de Santana, Universidade Federal da Bahia, Jardim Botânico do Rio de Janeiro, Centro de Referência em Informação Ambiental, and the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Brazil); the Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, and the Herbario Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (Peru); and the Instituto de Investigaciones en Ciencias Agrarias de Rosario and Museo Botánico de la Facultad de Ciencias Exactas, Físicas y Naturales Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Argentina).
The tropical African forests contain biodiversity of global importance and provide ecosystem services to millions of people. These forests are threatened by environmental and land use changes. Our work in tropical Africa concentrates on forest biodiversity, threats and threat mitigation. We focus upon the critically threatened coastal forests of East Africa in Tanzania, and those of the Congo Basin, which form the second largest intact tropical forest block in the world and the only one with an intact megafauna component. Our work includes:
- Understanding forest degradation so that it can be monitored, and mitigation policies put in place to halt forest loss
- Quantifying and modelling timber and carbon stocks in forests based on plot data
- Working with local partners to evaluate the potential and current limitations of community based forest management in Tanzania to enable targeted improvements
- Environmental education in schools and communities in the coastal forest region in Tanzania
- Species discovery in key plant groups (Zingiberaceae, Sapotaceae, Begoniaceae and Gesneriaceae)
- Floristic research in the Sangha Trinational World Heritage Site
- Understanding the role that herbarium specimens and tree plot data play in estimating species richness so that protected areas can be established in the most appropriate areas
RBGE collaborates with many institutions across tropical Africa including, in Tanzania, the Mpingo Conservation and Development Initiative, Commission for Science and Technology, WWF Tanzania, Kilwa Women Paralegal Unit, and TRAFFIC East Africa, and in the Republic of Congo, the Institut National de Recherche en Sciences Exactes et Naturelles, Faculté des Sciences et Techniques - Université Marien Ngouabi, and the Initiative des Champignons et des Plantes du Congo.