Botanic gardens conserve plant diversity ex situ and can prevent extinction through integrated conservation action. Here we quantify how that diversity is conserved in ex situ collections across the world’s botanic gardens. We reveal that botanic gardens manage at least 105,634 species, equating to 30% of all plant species diversity, and conserve over 41% of known threatened species. However, we also reveal that botanic gardens are disproportionately temperate, with 93% of species held in the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, an estimated 76% of species absent from living collections are tropical in origin. Furthermore, phylogenetic bias ensures that over 50% of vascular genera, but barely 5% of non-vascular genera, are conserved ex situ. While botanic gardens are discernibly responding to the threat of species extinction, just 10% of network capacity is devoted to threatened species. We conclude that botanic gardens play a fundamental role in plant conservation, but identify actions to enhance future conservation of biodiversity.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Sukhdev, P., Wittmer, H. & Schröter-Schlaack, C. The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity: Mainstreaming the Economics of Nature: A Synthesis of the Approach, Conclusions and Recommendations of TEEB (Progress Press, Malta, 2010).
Brummitt, N. A. et al. Green plants in the red: a baseline global assessment for the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants. PLoS ONE 10, e0135152 (2015).
Murphy, G. E. P. & Romanuk, T. N. A meta-analysis of declines in local species richness from human disturbances. Ecol. Evol. 4, 91–103 (2014).
Venter, O. et al. Sixteen years of change in the global terrestrial human footprint and implications for biodiversity conservation. Nat. Commun. 7, 12558 (2016).
Hooke, R. L. B., Martín-Duque, J. F. & Pedraza, J. Land transformation by humans: a review. GSA Today 22, 4–10 (2012).
Allen, J. A., Brown, C. S. & Stohlgren, T. J. Non-native plant invasions of United States National Parks. Biol. Invasions 11, 2195–2207 (2009).
Oldfield, S. F. Botanic gardens and the conservation of tree species. Trend. Plant Sci. 14, 581–583 (2009).
Heywood, V. H. The role of botanic gardens as resource and introduction centres in the face of global change. Biodivers. Conserv. 20, 221–239 (2010).
Wyse Jackson, P. & Kennedy, K. The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation: a challenge and opportunity for the international community. Trend. Plant Sci. 14, 578–580 (2009).
Smith, P. Guest essay: Building a global system for the conservation of all plant diversity: a vision for botanic gardens and Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Sibbaldia 14, 5–13 (2016).
Smith, P., Dickie, J., Linington, S., Probert, R. & Way, M. Making the case for plant diversity. Seed Sci. Res. 21, 1–4 (2011).
Raven, P. & Havens, K. Ex situ plant conservation and cryopreservation: breakthroughs in tropical plant conservation. Int. J. Plant Sci. 175, 1–2 (2014).
Pautasso, M. & Parmentier, I. Are the living collections of the world’s botanical gardens following species-richness patterns observed in natural ecosystems? Bot. Helv. 117, 15–28 (2007).
Golding, J. et al. Species-richness patterns of the living collections of the world’s botanic gardens: a matter of socio-economics? Ann. Bot. 105, 689–696 (2010).
Hillebrand, H. On the generality of the latitudinal diversity gradient. Am. Nat. 163, 192–211 (2004).
Hinchliff, C. E. et al. Synthesis of phylogeny and taxonomy into a comprehensive tree of life. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 12764–12769 (2015).
Lindo, Z. & Gonzalez, A. The bryosphere: an integral and influential component of the Earth’s biosphere. Ecosystems 13, 612–627 (2010).
Kauserud, H., Mathiesen, C. & Ohlson, M. High diversity of fungi associated with living parts of boreal forest bryophytes. Botany 86, 1326–1333 (2008).
Turetsky, M. R. The role of bryophytes in carbon and nitrogen cycling. Bryologist 106, 395–409 (2003).
Westwood, J. H., Yoder, J. I., Timko, M. P. & dePamphilis, C. W. The evolution of parasitism in plants. Trend. Plant Sci. 15, 227–235 (2010).
Possingham, H. P. et al. Limits to the use of threatened species lists. Trend. Ecol. Evol. 17, 503–507 (2002).
Godefroid, S. et al. How successful are plant species reintroductions? Biol. Conserv. 144, 672–682 (2011).
Guerrant, E. O. in Plant Reintroduction in a Changing Climate: Promises and Perils (eds Maschinski, J., Haskins, K. E. & Raven, P. H.) 9–29 (Island Press/Center for Resource Economics, Washington, DC, 2012).
Dalrymple, S. E., Stewart, G. B. & Pullin, A. S. Are Re-introductions an Effective Way of Mitigating Against Plant Extinctions? CEE Review 07-008 (Collaboration for Environmental Evidence, 2011).
Cayuela, L., Granzow-de la Cerda, Í., Albuquerque, F. S. & Golicher, D. J. taxonstand: an r package for species names standardisation in vegetation databases. Methods Ecol. Evol. 3, 1078–1083 (2012).
Damerau, F. J. A technique for computer detection and correction of spelling errors. Commun. ACM 7, 171–176 (1964).
Levenshtein, V. I. Binary codes capable of correcting deletions, insertions, and reversals. Sov. Phys. Dokl. 10, 707–710 (1966).
Isaac, N. J. B., Turvey, S. T., Collen, B., Waterman, C. & Baillie, J. E. M. Mammals on the EDGE: conservation priorities based on threat and phylogeny. PLoS ONE 2, (2007).
We thank N. Walker-Hale and M. Castle for statistical help, R. Smith-Unna for help with programming, M. Jones for help with BGCI databases, M. Rivers for access to an early release version of the BGCI ThreatSearch data, and M. Bohm for compiling initial national conservation assessments that went into BGCI ThreatSearch. We thank the Brockington Laboratory, N. Cunniffe, J. Walker, S. Smith, S. Sharrock and BGCI staff for useful discussion. We acknowledge the Cambridge University Botanic Garden and the National Environmental Research Council for financial support to S.B.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
Notes on life habit, species paucity, endemism, biogoegraphic distribution.
Evolutionary distinctiveness (FairProportion, MYA).
Missing/total clade genera.
Number of accepted species.
Genus Species Sourcefile.ID Latitude.Record.Count Max
About this article
Cite this article
Mounce, R., Smith, P. & Brockington, S. Ex situ conservation of plant diversity in the world’s botanic gardens. Nature Plants 3, 795–802 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41477-017-0019-3
PLANTS, PEOPLE, PLANET (2021)
The role of the National Botanical Garden of Iran in ex situ conservation of Buxus hyrcana Pojark.; An endangered species
Urban Forestry & Urban Greening (2021)
Use of native plants for ornamental purposes to conserve plant biodiversity: Case of study of Majella National Park
Journal for Nature Conservation (2020)
Journal of Museum Education (2020)