A New Plants and Climate Change Information Service

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) is known as one of the most important information providers on plant diversity worldwide. It has developed a unique global database of wild plants in cultivation in botanic gardens around the world and, through its membership and other partnerships, it brings together the major players in plant conservation worldwide. Further, its GardenSearch database provides a gateway to the world’s botanic gardens and thus provides a portal to a vast range of information on plant diversity relevant at national and regional levels.

Although a number of international organisations provide information about the impacts of climate change on biodiversity (UNEP-WCMC, IUCN, CBD, Conservation International, WWF) or on agriculture (FAO, Bioversity International), none of these focus specifically on the impacts on plants in the wild – and thus the cascade of effects on ecosystems and livelihoods. Searching on the internet for information on plants and climate change reveals a host of information, but much of this is either highly academic and difficult for the non-specialist to interpret, or only of local relevance. BGCI therefore proposes to address this gap by developing a ‘Plants and Climate Change Information Service’.

The information service would act as a bridge between research-driven academia and practical on-the-ground plant conservation action. It would support plant conservation planning through identifying gaps in ex situ collections and highlighting priority areas for in situ action. For example, a plant database providing the following species-level information could help guide prioritisation of action:

o How many botanic gardens are cultivating this species and where is it in cultivation;
o Vulnerability – is the species one with ‘nowhere to go’ in the wild (island, mountain species etc.);
o Threat status – is the species already recorded as threatened by causes other than climate change;
o Livelihood value – is the species of medicinal or nutritional value or a crop wild relative;
o Horticultural information: how is the species propagated and grown (information of importance for restoration work).

Additional facts and statistics available through the information service would assist botanic gardens and other users to develop accurate and meaningful education and public awareness messages. An interactive space for BGCI’s members and partners would also enable information exchange and the contribution of data on conservation actions and phenological observations.

With over 2,500 botanic gardens worldwide, existing in almost every country of the world, an information service linking these unique botanical resource centres will be of great value. This enhanced communication between gardens will help to increase coordinated action across countries and even continents and will also reduce duplication of effort. The information service will link to the wider plant conservation community through the Global Partnership for Plant Conservation (for which BGCI provides the Secretariat) and will underpin on-going efforts to achieve the 2010 targets of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).

For more information about the Information Service and other BGCI initiatives please contact gro.icgbnull@ofni or see http://www.bgci.org.

Contributed by Belinda Hawkins, Botanic Gardens Conservation International