Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney, Australia

Global Strategy for Plant Conservation

A summary of Trust activity in 2008-09 against GSPC targets

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation was adopted by the 6th Conference of the Parties to the international Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The Trust, together with the Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens (CHABG) and the Botanic Gardens of Australia and New Zealand (BGANZ), have committed to pursuing GSPC targets wherever possible in their scientific, horticultural and educational activities. The ultimate and long-term objective of the GSPC is to halt the current and continuing loss of plant diversity.

With the GSPC in its current form set to expire in 2010, parties to the CBD will be considering the adoption of a second iteration of the Strategy. Trust staff have contributed to a stakeholder appraisal of the first 10 years of the GSPC, and helped prepare briefing materials for the Australian representative to the GSPC Liaison Group meeting in Dublin (26-28 May 2009).

The GSPC themes and global targets for the year 2010, and relevant Trust activities in the year 2008-09, are as follows:

Understanding and documenting plant diversity

Target 1: A widely accessible working list of known plant species, as a step towards a complete world flora

The Trust maintains the National Herbarium of New South Wales, the principal repository for documented samples and data of the State’s plants, and one of the major repositories and botanical research centres for Australia and the region. The 1.2 million herbarium specimens form an authenticated scientific baseline  of taxonomic, nomenclatural and distributional knowledge of plant species, and contribute to the accuracy and currency of specialist handbooks and general Floras (e.g. the multivolume Flora of Australia, Algae of Australia and Fungi of Australia - in progress; the Flora of New South Wales - now maintained on-line through PlantNET). Herbarium staff are contributing to the new Australian Plant Census. Progress in the digital capture of scientific data, and in the development of our database structures and tools, is leading to an increasing focus on conservation-related information systems. These include records of historic and current mapping of vegetation cover, species distributions, survey records, living collections, habitat, physical and biological features and geographical information systems (GIS). Trust scientific staff and research associates are active in the production and documentation of taxonomic knowledge across a wide range of plant groups (seed plants, some gymnosperms and ferns, bryophytes, marine and freshwater algae, and some lichens and fungi).

The Trust has established high-level contact with the Global Taxonomy Initiative of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, and with other international groups, to further the Asia-Pacific objectives. The Trust continued its contribution to national and international committees related to the management and dissemination of plant diversity data. The Trust is a member of the IUBS International Working Group on Taxonomic Databases and the Australian Herbarium Information Committee (HISCOM), and is represented on the Executive Committees of key international database groups (particularly, members of staff are the Chair of the Global Plant Checklist Committee of International Organization for Plant Information; member of GBIF Electronic Catalogue of Names Subcommittee, and Chair of the project team of Species 2000). The Trust is also a member of the Species 2000 Asia-Oceania group and the Pacific Biodiversity Information Forum. These groups encourage international and national biodiversity activities in the broad region.

Work on the ‘Guide to trees of Papua New Guinea’ (www.pngplants.org) project is underway as part of a collaborative research initiative with the Papua New Guinea National Herbarium. This year’s activity has focussed on editing text for the more than 520 species treatments completed in the project, which will help document the tree flora of that country.

Target 2: A preliminary assessment of the conservation status of all known plant species, at national, regional and international levels

The Trust is represented on the two key inter-agency committees that assess the conservation status of species for legislative listing in the State: the NSW Scientific Committee (for terrestrial species) and the NSW Fisheries Scientific Committee (for aquatic species). Other Trust staff and associates contribute to the provision of information on which the assessments and legislative scheduling of threatened species and threatened communities are made at both State and Commonwealth level.

During the year a Trust staff member published the first directory of the extinction-risk listing processes of plant species and ecological communities that are used in Australia, allowing easy comparison of the nine different systems used for legislative listings in the different jurisdictions.

Target 3: Development of models with protocols for plant conservation and sustainable use, based on research and practical experience

Scientific staff of the Trust contribute to the development of model systems, training manuals, common conservation data-repositories, and long-term monitoring projects of importance to vegetation management and conservation.

Conservation ecology work detailed under Target 7 below is contributing directly to a capability to model species responses to habitat change, including climate change.

Seed technology work, detailed under Target 8 below, is contributing directly to the national repository of wild plant germplasm, and to a capability to use such material for species conservation and ecological restoration.

Conserving plant diversity

Target 4: At least 10 per cent of each of the world’s ecological regions effectively conserved

The NSW Native Vegetation Classification and Assessment continues, with descriptors of the ecological (vegetation) communities of nearly twothirds of the land area of the State now documented, including close estimates of the proportion conserved and the nature of threats facing them. This comprehensive review and typology of the ecological communities across the State is becoming a standard reference for conservation planning in the State, including in reserve acquisition strategies.

Internationally, staff are members of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Commission on Ecosystem Management, the Species Survival Commission Red-List Committee, and the IUCN Species Survival Commission Reintroduction Specialist Group. Ecological studies of several communities (some of them endangered) across the Sydney Basin also continue.

Trust staff are working with other DECCW units to achieve interoperability of ecological data-sets to improve the information base available to land- and conservation managers.

Target 5: Protection of 50 per cent of the most important areas for plant diversity assured

This target is not relevant to the Trust except insofar as it provides botanical and plant pathology expertise and services to assist with assessment and management of reserve lands.

Target 6: At least 30 per cent of production lands managed consistent with the conservation of plant diversity

The NSW Native Vegetation Classification and Assessment is progressively describing and classifying (but not mapping) the native ecological (vegetation) communities of NSW. The western half of the State (mainly rangeland production systems with some irrigation cropping) was completed in 2006-07, and data collection and analysis for the Western Slopes (much of the wheat-sheep belt) has been completed since. The current year has seen data collection and some parts of write-up completed for the increasingly complex ecological communities of the southern and northern tablelands, up to the Great Divide watershed.

The seed biology of over 150 species of Cumberland Plain plant species is being documented through in situ and laboratory studies at Mount Annan Botanic Garden. This information contributes directly to the management of endangered ecological communities and many threatened species of the Cumberland Plain.

Target 7: Sixty per cent of the world’s threatened species conserved in situ

Trust staff, and our collections and databases, provide much of the basic taxonomic, distributional and diagnostic information on which the recognition, conservation assessment, and management of plant species depends. Trust staff also provide expert input and research support to many Recovery Plans and Threat Abatement Plans, and to the NSW DECC Priority Action Statement for threatened species. Trust staff are active members of:

  • the IUCN Species Survival Commission Reintroduction Specialist Group
  • the Wollemi Pine Management and Recovery Committee
  • the Border Ranges Multi-Species Recovery Committee
  • several single-species and singlecommunity recovery teams.

During the year, input was made to relevant DECC units on the Priority Action Statement for threatened species. The Trust was represented at meetings of the DECC Biodiversity Conservation Managers group, which focuses on threatened species and ecosystems.

Research programs with a direct bearing on adaptive management of wild plants in situ include:

  • The seed biology of Cumberland Plain Woodland plants (see above). CPW is one of a number of Endangered Ecological Communities occurring in the Sydney region. In situ management and recovery actions for Cumberland Plain species require information on germination, dormancy, longevity and other ecological characteristics of the species.
  • A Liverpool Plains native grassland survey and typology, including the current and pre-European extents of the grasslands, has continued, with this year’s focus being on analysis of soil samples and images. This community is listed as an endangered ecological community under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act, with less than three per cent remaining).
  • Conservation ecology and genetic research is using molecular, ecological and environmental data from rare and common paleoendemic NSW rainforest trees to identify causes of rarity and to infer past patterns of spread and retreat with environmental changes. This helps build models for assessment of the responses of wild plant species to environmental impacts like habitat fragmentation and climate change, and hence informs management and recovery strategies.
  • Wollemi Pine ecological and pathological studies: the Trust remains significantly involved in research and management of the iconic Wollemi Pine, including study of grove ecology and growth dynamics, and tracking and treating an outbreak of Phytophthora root-rot at one site.

Target 8: Sixty per cent of threatened plant species in accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and 10 per cent of them included in recovery and restoration programs

Trust staff led a successful process during the year, in collaboration with the Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc. and the Millennium Seed Bank Australian Partners consortium, to substantially complete a comprehensive technical manual, Plant germplasm conservation in Australia, to replace the ANPC’s 1997 Germplasm Conservation Guidelines. The new publication, for launch in the second half of 2009, reflects the enormous increase over the last 12 years in research and practical experience in germplasm capture, storage, and use. The NSW Seedbank has been a major focus of Trust activity for several years, and the Trust is in its second and final triennium of support funding from the Millennium Seed Bank (UK). This funding has enabled an expanded program of seed collection, seedbanking and technology, and seed biology research over recent years.

The NSW Seedbank is an active partner in the national AuSCaR (Australian Seed Conservation and Research) network, which groups all MSB partners and is laying the foundations for a cooperative continuance of the MSB-funded programs after 2010. The Trust is represented on the AuSCaR interim steering committee, which is developing strategic placement and a business program for the network.

The NSW Seedbank at 30 May 2009 held 9,255 accessions representing 4,392 species, of which 5,254 collections and 2,118 species are native to NSW. Of the 5,714 native species that naturally occur in NSW, the NSW Seedbank now has samples of just under 38 per cent. Of the 600 legislatively listed Threatened Plant species in NSW, the seedbank holds 29 per cent (373 seedlots of 176 species). Germination tests are carried out on dried seed of nearly all seedbanked species. A range of factors and tests for germinability and viability are performed and recorded, and in many cases are the first systematic studies of the seed responses of the species concerned, thus providing baseline data of use in ex situ and in situ conservation.

The Research Program at Mount Annan Botanic Garden has this year consolidated its 2007-08 work, refocussing on new key areas of relevance to environmental management at departmental, national and international levels, mainly in the area of germplasm (largely seed) conservation and utilisation. The ‘Rainforest Seeds Project’, launched in early 2008 with funding from Allianz and two private benefactors, is now well underway. The program involves collaborations with Griffith and Southern Cross Universities, the Millennium Seed Bank UK, and a network of community-based seed collectors in northern NSW and southeastern Queensland. Screening protocols for incoming seed have been developed and applied, to determine their suitability for storage by conventional means; unsuitable (recalcitrant) seeds will be trialled for alternative storage regimes, including tissue culture and cryogenics. A number of papers were accepted for publication in the year, on topics including rainforest species seed biology, and the development of robust techniques for simultaneous storage of terrestrial orchid seeds with their mycorrhizal fungi. For the second year, a three-day course in ‘Plant Germplasm Conservation and Sustainable Development’ was delivered to honours year and post-graduate students from the University of Sydney; enrolments in this course have increased from three to 17. Research staff contributed presentations to a number of conferences including the Ecological Society of Australia conference, and a keynote address to the Botanical Society of America. Three presentations involving Mount Annan research staff and deriving from rainforest seed research, were made in the UK at the ‘Tree Seeds 2008: Trees, Seeds and a Changing Climate’ (conference of the Seed Physiology Working Group of the International Union of Forestry Research Organisation). Poster presentations were made at the NSW Nature Conservation Council’s ‘Saving a sunburnt country’ conference in November 2008.

Target 9: Seventy per cent of the genetic diversity of crops and other major socio-economically valuable plant species conserved, and associated Indigenous and local knowledge maintained

Trust activity against this target falls mainly under the heads of research and training in plant pathology, and the promulgation of Indigenous knowledge and insights into the wider community through teaching and interpretation. In plant pathology (see also Target 10), the Trust contributed to studies of diseases of crop plants and the potential for pathogens to cross from native ecosystems to cropping systems. Major pathogens like Fusarium may in some circumstances lead to the loss of important parts of the genomic variation of crop species. School education and visitor programs have a high component of Indigenous knowledge content.

Target 10: Management plans in place for at least 100 major alien species that threaten plants, plant communities and associated habitats and ecosystems

The Trust is represented on two key inter-agency committees that assess the threatening processes (including those relating to alien species) for NSW legislative listing as Key Threatening Processes. The Botanical Information Service provides expert identification of exotic and introduced weed species, and works with external collaborators to ensure early detection of newly naturalising species. The Plant Disease Diagnostic Unit provides affordable diagnoses of these and other plant diseases, including for natural area and species managers. Research continued on a major external collaborative study documenting the species of fungi causing leaf spot diseases on plants in the families Proteaceae and Myrtaceae. A long-term focus of research is on the distribution, pathology and genetic variation of Phytophthora cinnamomi (a cause of root-rot and dieback in several national parks and other natural areas in eastern New South Wales) as well as important bushland reserves on Sydney Harbour foreshores. Trust staff are active members of the NSW Phytophthora Threat Abatement Working Group, and of ad hoc liaison groups with local councils and other land managers, and are working through these avenues to develop practical management and risk-minimisation protocols. Remedial treatment of a wild grove of Wollemi Pines for Phytophthora cinnamomi infection continues.

Using plant diversity sustainably

Target 11: No species of wild flora endangered by international trade

The Trust is represented on the NSW Cut-flower Advisory Committee. The Botanical Information Service provides expert plant identifications, including for export-control authorities. Trust services provide expert forensic identification for plant import/export seizures as needed, and contributes to import risk assessment processes as appropriate.

Target 12: Thirty per cent of plantbased products derived from sources that are sustainably managed

This target is not relevant to the Trust except insofar as we are able to provide expert advice in some instances, for assessment of sustainable yield.

Target 13: The decline of plant resources, and associated indigenous and local knowledge, innovations and practices that support sustainable livelihoods, local food security and health care, halted

This target is partially relevant to a range of current Trust programs and projects through which the Trust advises government bodies on conservation priorities and opportunities, hosts relevant public and specialist events, and has some staff expertise in Indigenous and non-Indigenous plant practices and cultural knowledge.

The Trust provides much of the advice and raw data, and some of the analysis, on which estimates of decline of wild plant species and vegetation communities can be scientifically based. The NSW Native Vegetation Classification and Assessment project is providing a literature-based assessment of post settlement decline, and current reserve-representation, for all recognised ecological communities across the State, and its covering is progressing eastwards. Also see Achievements.

Promoting education and awareness about plant diversity

Target 14: The importance of plant diversity and the need for its conservation incorporated into communication, educational and public-awareness programs

Science staff give many presentations to both public and scientific or specialist audiences, and these often have a conservation focus. This year, for example, the Centre for Plant Conservation developed and delivered a presentation on plant provenance, as a contentious issue in bush rehabilitation, to a regional audience.

The Trust’s two scientific journals continue to document the taxonomic diversity of the State’s plants (Telopea), and their ecology (Cunninghamia). The Botanical Information Service provides prompt and reliable identifications to public and professional inquirers, as does the Plant Disease Diagnostic Unit (PDDU). Prompt and accurate servicing of public botanical inquiries plays an important role in awareness raising, particularly in relation to threatened species in development zones. The Trust’s Ecology of Cumberland Plain Woodland Plants web-pages continue to be among the most popular on its site. They make accessible, ecological data and knowledge for the western part of Greater Sydney (including for several endangered ecological communities and threatened species).

Community Education staff at all three botanic gardens delivered school and public programs to almost 66,000 visitors this financial year, including approximately 23,000 students in school lessons. Public programs included structured educational courses and activities with a plant or horticultural focus, on-site visitor interpretation, talks and guided tours. Conservation and sustainability themes were an element of a majority of these interactions

Building capacity for the conservation of plant diversity

Target 15: The number of trained people working with appropriate facilities in plant conservation increased, according to national needs, to achieve the targets of this Strategy

Tertiary level professional and technical training occurs mainly through the Science units. Thirty-two tertiary students in various branches of plant science were supervised this year, and staff delivered guest lectures at various universities, including our joint Systematics course with the University of New England. The Plant Science Student Intern Program ran over summer, resulting in much extra work done for the Herbarium. Interns completed the program with a much improved understanding of current issues in botany and conservation, an orientation towards the Gardens as a centre of plant science, and improved career prospects. As in previous years, some interns either have, or intend to, return to the Gardens as Honours or post-graduate students.

The Centre for Plant Conservation (CPC) coordinates several aspects of Trust work on biodiversity conservation, and is a focus of outreach and collaboration, especially with the Australian Network for Plant Conservation Inc., within which the Trust has long played a major role. The CPC Coordinator also maintains close links with a number of other DECC units, with biodiversity conservation units in agencies in other jurisdictions, and with external conservation bodies such as the Australian Association of Bush Regenerators, and other organisations.

Professional development for science staff included attendance by some Mount Annan research staff at a plant phenomics course at ANU Canberra.

Target 16: Networks for plant conservation activities established or strengthened at national, regional and international levels

Trust staff are active at national and local leadership levels in the Australian Network for Plant Conservation. Plant pathology staff are working to develop Phytophthora awareness networks between local government, State agencies, and other land management authorities. Also see the Asia-Pacific Capacity Building Action Plan.