Planning to maximize conservation efficiency and effectiveness

Joint Convenors Nigel Maxted and Joana Magos Brehm

The abundant wealth of plant diversity, an estimated 391,000 vascular species (plus about 20,000 lower plants) (RBG Kew, 2016), provides the primary production for all life on earth. Yet these critical resources for continued human survival are threatened by human mismanagement of the environment; plant diversity at the habitat, species, and genetic levels is threatened to a degree never seen previously in our planet’s history. Brummitt et al. (2015) estimate 20% of plant species are threatened with extinction and another 10% are near threatened using IUCN Red List criteria. Plants are particularly vulnerable to climate change as: migration is slow; local adaption may not be able to keep pace with the changing environment; many have long generation times; and there is limited knowledge of each species auto- and synecology.

The aim of plant conservation is to maintain the ecosystem, taxonomic and genetic diversity of plants and the interrelationships between plants, other organisms and their environment.  The development of conservation programmes aims to enhance or maintain diversity and halt habitat, species and genetic extinction or erosion.  To achieve this goal, involves a clear understanding of the diversity and processes that occur and planning and implementation of practical techniques to achieve taxonomic and genetic stability.  Conservationists, when undertaking a particular conservation planning exercise, use their knowledge of genetics, ecology, geography, taxonomy and many other disciplines to understand and manage the biodiversity they wish to conserve.  To conserve the maximum range of diversity found in a species, populations of the species are likely to require protection in diverse locations and in each of these the habitat management set in place that maintains or enhances diversity within and between the target populations.

Plant conservation planning is distinct from other biodiversity conservation planning in the sheer breadth of the taxonomic diversity and the largely unknown range of genetic diversity being targeted. On the positive side, good taxonomic checklists and distributional data is available, for at least developed country’s flora, and at a global level centres of diversity have been identified so Species Distribution and Climate Resilience modelling can be used to facilitate conservation planning. Even though little is understood of patterns of genetic diversity within taxa, techniques such as ecogeographic land characterization (Parra-Quijano et al., 2012) and gap analysis are employing ecogeographic distribution as a proxy for genetic diversity and are increasingly used to plan the genetic conservation of plants. Due to the breadth of diversity included planning often involves the conservation of multiple taxa in multiple locations employing a range of in situ (formal protected area / extra PA in situ / on-farm / home gardens) and ex situ (seed storage / in vitro storage / DNA storage / field gene bank / botanic garden) techniques. For many plant species, particularly those with known socioeconomic value, there is an intimate link between plant genetic diversity, conservation and utilisation (Figure 1).  The model includes a series of steps starting with the full range of genetic diversity for the plant species or group of species to be conserved, through the planning of conservation action, the implementation of the conservation action and leading finally through to characterisation and evaluation as a precursor to utilisation.  The application of this model is at the core of food security, poverty alleviation and the well-being for humankind. As the primary production for all life on earth, plants have a high ecosystem services and economic value, yet their loss or decline in diversity is likely to have severe economic, social and ethical consequences for humankind, so it is critical we prioritize their efficient and effective conservation planning, only then can we implement those plans and ensure continued and sustainable utilisation.

Specifically, the Plant Conservation Planning Workshop will address:

  • an overview of plant conservation planning;
  • how Important Plant Areas may act as a tool for plant conservation;
  • taxonomic and geographic prioritization for conservation action;
  • ecogeographic surveys and gap analysis techniques;
  • species distribution modelling, climate change and conservation planning;
  • an introduction to an on-line plant conservation planning toolkit;
  • working with stakeholder communities;
  • the content of conservation strategies and action plans, as well as local, national, regional and global level conservation planning.


Figure 1. Model of plant conservation (adapted from Maxted et al., 1997).


Cited Texts

Brummitt, N.A., Bachman, S.P., Griffiths-Lee, J., Lutz, M., Moat, J.F., Farjon, A., Donaldson, J.S., Hilton-Taylor, C., Meagher, T.R., Albuquerque, S. and Aletrari, E. (2015). Green plants in the red: a baseline global assessment for the IUCN sampled Red List Index for plants. PloS One,10(8), p.e 0135152.

Maxted, N., Ford-Lloyd, B.V. and Hawkes, J.G., (1997). Complementary Conservation Strategies.  In:  Plant genetic conservation: the in situ approach (eds. Maxted, N., Ford-Lloyd, B.V. and Hawkes, J.G.), pp. 20-55. Chapman & Hall, London.

Pimentel, D., Wilson, C., McCullum, C., Huang, R., Owen, P., Flack, J., Tran, Q., Saltman, T. and Cliff, B. (1997). Economic and environmental benefits of biodiversity. BioScience. 47, 747–757.

RBG Kew (2016). The State of the World’s Plants Report – 2016. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.

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