University of Helsinki, Helsinki 2006
Living collections of botanic gardens as a means of ex situ conservation
A case study of African Violets (Saintpaulia) in Europe
Master's thesis, February 2006.
In all plant conservation, the priority is to maintain wild populations in situ (on site), which means that plants are conserved within their natural environment. Sometimes, as in the case of severely endangered Saintpaulia H. Wendl. (African violets), this is however, no sufficient. In that case, ex situ (off site) conservation in the form of live and in vitro collections and seed banks is necessary. In recent years, the role of botanic gardens in conservation and reintroduction of threatened plants, has been increasingly recognized. Botanic gardens throughout the world possess large living collections of species and accessions, but only vague assumptions of the utility of them in ex situ conservation have been made thus far. Whole plants, when kept ex situ, have advantages in education, research and display. On the other hand, living collections have the disadvantage of high maintenance costs, including high spatial requirements. Thus, usually only one or few genotypes are represented.
The goal of this study is to evaluate botanic garden live collections as a means of ex situ conservation with the genus Saintpaulia as a case study. As a result, an ex situ conservation plan for Saintpaulia is outlined. Workability of a network ex situ conservation activity in botanic gardens is also evaluated.
Four of the five most important European Saintpaulia holders were chosen as target botanic gardens: Helsinki University Botanic Garden (Finland), The National Botanic Garden of Belgium, The Botanic Garden of Uppsala University (Sweden) and the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (UK). The wild Saintpaulia collections of the gardens were reviewed and the identifications checked. Botanic garden databases were examined to trace clone accessions. Leaf cuttings from wild-collected accessions were planted in Helsinki University Botanic Garden.
Of the total 183 Saintpaulia accessions of the four target gardens 155 (85 %) were unique, and 126 of these were of known wild origin. They were chosen to ex situ conservation collection. Due to the varying quality of the data of origin of the accessions, five classes for the different quality of origin data were developed.
European botanic garden living collections of Saintpaulia proved to be a workable base of ex situ conservation for the genus. The amount of space needed to conserve the ideal of at least 50 unique accessions of each of the 26 Saintpaulia taxa is best possible to organize with the network ex situ conservation programme: each accession will be stored in at least two botanic gardens, but no garden will have all the accessions. Saintpaulia is an ideal genus for living ex situ collections: it is beautiful and well-known, small-sized and easy to grow and propagate. New ex situ accessions will be collected from the wild and finally reintroduced to their natural habitats. Further research needs to be carried out to find out the proper seed banking mechanisms for probably orthodox but dust-like seeds of Saintpaulia species. The lack of research on the basic biology and the population ecology of the genus hampers effective conservation work. Collaboration with amenity horticulture and the home countries of Saintpaulia is planned to utilize the genetic diversity of wild African violets in breeding new cultivars.
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© University of Helsinki 2006
Last updated 13.12.2006