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Safeguarding plant collections by comparing ex situ and wild populations

We are quantifying how many individuals need to be kept in botanic garden collections to best preserve genetic variation, using case studies across the tree of life, including many threatened oak species, which will provide advice for future seed collections.

Safeguarding plant collections by comparing ex situ and wild populations
The collaborators on the project meeting at The Morton Arboretum


The Morton Arboretum is working collaboratively on an Institute for Museum and Library Services-funded project to improve the conservation value of trees kept in the Arboretum’s collections, specifically to ensure enough genetic variation is retained in the collections to ensure species survival. In September of 2019, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, a global organization that mobilizes botanic gardens and other partners in securing plant diversity, and the Montgomery Botanical Center released a landmark plant conservation publication featuring contributions from scientists and researchers in the Arboretum’s Center for Tree Science. The publication, titled “Toward the Metacollection: Coordinating conservation collections to safeguard plantdiversity,” is designed to inform garden managers, collectors, and scientists about innovative tools for effectively conserving rare plants. The groundbreaking report presents 10 case studies that showcase how to collect, manage, breed, document, and share threatened plants among a network of botanic gardens to achieve maximum conservation impact. The techniques detailed include pedigree-based management, identifying populations to sample from, increasing representation of the most threatened species, identifying minimum numbers of individuals to conserve, tailoring collection goals to the species biology, and identifying the most genetically unique and valuable plants, among other methods. In highlighting research-backed guidelines for sampling for conservation, botanic gardens and others can significantly increase the efficiency and effectiveness of ex situ conservation. While not the final piece, this publication is the culmination of a three-year grant, “Safeguarding Plant Collections” and represents 25 contributors from more than 20 institutions worldwide. 

Funding sources

IMLS National Leadership grant, The Morton Arboretum

Project status