Large scale global change and direct human pressures on the natural environment are leading to extensive biodiversity loss and major societal impacts. There are pressing challenges in minimising extinction and promoting the maintenance and restoration of biodiverse and resilient ecosystems.
Almost all of our research underpins conservation action in some way, but a particular focus is the translation of policy-relevant science into conservation practice. We evaluate and then prioritise the species, ecosystems and regions that are most under threat, develop management solutions, implement recovery and restoration programmes, and build capacity for ongoing sustainability in-country.
Evaluating threats to species
- We chair the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Conifer Specialist Group, and we play a major role in the compilation of the Red List as well as ongoing global reassessments for conifers.
- We routinely incorporate conservation assessments into our taxonomic and floristic outputs.
- We are a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/Species Survival Commision (SSC) Global Tree specialist group for Sapotaceae.
Identification of sites for conservation and targeted action
We input into local, national and regional conservation planning in some of the most threatened and least explored ecosystems on earth, including (among others) the Arabian Peninsula, the dry forests of Latin America, New Caledonia, and Sarawak.
- In the Arabian Peninsula, we lead the identification of Important Plant Areas. We closely work with national governments and contribute data and advice for conservation planning. We undertook a major review of Iraq’s Ministry of Environment 10 year National Key Biodiversity Areas program, and we developed the proposed Saudi Arabian National Biodiversity Assessment (SANBA). Our work was critical in the designation of the Yemeni island of Socotra as a World Heritage Site, and the planning of major protected areas within the region.
- The dry forests of Latin America are rapidly disappearing due to large-scale conversion to agriculture. Our work has quantified the high levels of endemism and evolutionary uniqueness of these forests, and has been fundamental in the identification of conservation sites and plans.
- New Caledonia is a global biodiversity hotspot, but faces massive environmental destruction due to nickel mining and fire. Analysis of distributional data of nearly 3K plant species led to the production of a ‘rarity hotspot map’ of the New Caledonian flora.
- We are part of the RIMBA Sarawak (Research for the Intensified Management of Bio-rich Areas in Sarawak) intiiative to document the rich plant diversity in wildlife sanctuaries, national parks and nature reserves of Sarawak. The data gathered will facilitate the formulation of evidence based sustainable management plans and help build and enhance capabilities and skills in research and conservation management.
Conservation science to inform policy and management
- We have developed models to assess risks to biodiversity and livelihoods from the expansion of rubber plantations into novel environments, focusing on Southeast Asia.
- Tanzania’s forests are threatened by rapidly rising demand for wood for construction, fuel and unregulated raw timber exports. We model the spread of logging in these forests and quantify associated losses of biodiversity, carbon and revenues.
- In Scotland we have developed a web-based scenarios toolkit to explore options for woodland biodiversity management, offsetting the risks of climate change and tree disease. This is now being trialled by SNH at their flagship Glen Creran NNR, to help conserve Scotland’s internationally important temperate rainforest.
- We have developed biological indicators for Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme and the UK’s Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee.
- Our plant heath programme aims to develop strategies to minimise impacts from emerging pests and pathogens, and we play a lead role in the Scottish Centre of Expertise in Plant Health.
Preserving and restoring biodiversity
- In Scotland we have active translocation programmes on bryophytes and lichens, and threatened species such as the alpine sow-thistle (Cicerbita alpina). All our programmes are accompanied by detailed long-term monitoring and stringent plant-health procedures.
- We have translated our experiences in translocation programmes into national and international guidelines, including the Scottish Code for Conservation Translocations.
- We have collected and successfully cultivated 156 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation's 181 Scottish Target 8 species (86% compared to the recommended 75%), and we keep detailed records of the their ideal cultivation protocols, supporting their future conservation and potential reintroduction.
- The International Conifer Conservation Programme has established a network of conifer safe sites. These 170 sites span the entire British Isles and contain 13,000 plants representing more than 150 threatened conifers. They form one of the globally most comprehensive ex-situ conservation networks for threatened woody plants.