Collaboration for Conservation of Exceptional Plants

As the number of plant species thought to be exceptional, or unable to be seed banked using traditional methods, grows, so too does the need for information on these species. However, there’s a critical lack of information on successful long-term storage protocols for many exceptional plants, and a greater number that haven’t yet been evaluated for exceptional status. In order to address this gap in knowledge and build capacity in exceptional plant conservation, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife partnered with nine gardens to support one-year research projects on the propagation and storage of exceptional species. Over the course of the project, the gardens used their initial $5,000 seed grants to target 19 exceptional species. Projects included testing germination requirements and evaluating exceptional status of seeds, initiating species into tissue culture, and developing cryopreservation protocols and banking. Over half the gardens cited propagule acquisition as a key challenge in working with their species. An analysis of costs associated with each project found that the cost of developing a protocol for a single species averaged $3,517, with higher costs tending to be associated with species that were difficult to initiate into tissue culture. Over half of the costs associated with each project were allocated to labor, with 5,396 total labor hours across all nine gardens. The structure of this project allowed for collaboration in the conservation of exceptional species, as partner gardens were able to come together at the beginning of their projects to discuss proposals and get feedback from partners, and again at the end of their projects to discuss lessons learned and best practices. There is a critical need to build capacity in exceptional plant conservation, and this collaborative approach can serve as a model for effective conservation practice moving forward.