Saturday, 2 April 2011

Biodiversity & Conservation

I’m working a bit backwards here, catching up on some days missing from the blogr

22 March 2011
Greg Kenicer was back with us today to talk about conservation, ecology and biodiversity. The RBGE is world-famous for its biodiversity programmes, as epitomised in the new John Hope Gateway Centre at the West Gates of the Edinburgh gardens.  The four national gardens within Scotland work closely with research institutes across the globe and are involved in major projects addressing conservation and biodiversity.

We started with the good old ‘food chain’: 
  • Primary Producers (plants) at the bottom,
  • Primary Consumers (those who eat plants) in the middle,
  • Decomposers (worms, bacteria, fungi) at the top.

Of course, they are all linked circuitously as well.

Biodiversity: is one of the buzz words of this decade and often goes hand-in-hand with climate change (it was Acid Rain in my day).  It relates primarily to measurement of the number of species living in one specific area (1 unit =1species). Key projects at the RBGE include ‘inventory work’ which measures the number of different species in one area and ‘monographic work’ which looks at a group of plants and measures how many different species exist within that group. Most projects seeking to attract funding will have a ‘biodiversity’ element to them, which helps to inform which conservation programmes are undertaken. The choice might relate to areas under threat from natural or man-mande causes, new or unexplored regions, plant species necessary for survival or economic stability and/or edemism (where species exist only in one small area, like Scotland).
Biodiversity Hotspots - courtesy of UC Berkeley 

Conservation: is intimately linked to biodiversity as scientists must look at ways of preserving and conserving it. The key methods are:

In-situ - where you take the fight to the place it happens, e.g by fencing off or preserving (through national parks) areas of land to consever and perhaps re-seatablish species.

Ex-situ – where plant collections are taken to ‘safe sites’, perhaps around the world (and in many cases, very secretive) so that stocks are established and new nursery populations grown.  This acts to ensure the saviour a species, but also allows re-introduction at a later date or in a different place.

Inter-situ – is a combination of both: conserving or re-establishing a natural habitat and then re-introducing species from safe site collections.

Genetic conservation – is a scientific study primarily of crop and rare plants. Using DNA to trace the genetic ‘roots’ of a plant helps to understand natural and manmade genetic variations. The aim is to help develop new plants that are more tolerant to climate change, mass-production, disease, and evolving production methods. A sort of reverse GM, but also engaged with GM too.

 Having had enough of indoors and slide shows when the sun was shining, we decided to go on a walk-about - quite one of the most wonderful aspects of taking a course in the Botanics. Greg took us through the magical hot houses growing all species of begonias (the largest collection in the world) and Monkey Puzzle trees of New Caledonia, followed by the deserts of North America, the temperate zones of Africa, and tropics of Southeast Asia. We then had a quick walk through a secret garden of New Zealand plants and finished in the orchid houses. 

No comments: