Flora in Botanical Gardens Expand Biocultural Diversity

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Flora in Botanical Gardens Expand Biocultural Diversity

A large botanical garden. / Photo by: welcomia via 123RF


The environment is very influential in all aspects of human survival. We rely solely on its multitude of resources in order to live. In fact, almost everything that we need is found in our environment and we depend on it every day.

In a journal by Christopher Dunn, he stated that as several impacts of global climate change, habitat loss, and other environmental changes on the world's biota continue to increase, cultural and linguistic diversity is also affected including floristic diversity.


Biocultural Diversity



What does biocultural diversity mean?

As defined by Luisa Maffi, it is "the diversity of life in all its manifestations: biological, cultural, and linguistic — which are interrelated within a complex socio-ecological adaptive system."

Subsequently, it refers to evolution and adaptation between continuing biological and cultural diversities. It is also concerned with ecological knowledge of the different diversities in any place and reflects people's ways of living with nature.

“Thus, ethnobotany is the science of survival.” A quote obtained from Economic Botany tends to issue a statement to stress the importance of ethnobotany by providing some of the solutions towards a more sustainable living. A group composed of 44 people participated in the Ethnobotanical Summit who facilitated the publication of the paper by the New York Botanical Garden Press.

Considering the grave environmental crisis facing the world today such as the loss of biodiversity and the loss of culture, the paper elaborated strong links between biological and cultural diversity as well as with ethnobotany to help craft effective local solutions to many of the global issues that confront us (humans) as a species. Societies across the world should manage their resources sustainably while also maintaining cultural identity and social structures to help prevent loss of flora diversity.

A journal published by the Cambodian Journal of Natural History, implicated the usage of ethnobotany as an indicator of biodiversity. If a plant is no longer available, it cannot be used and therefore, knowledge related to it may disappear.  Deforestation threatens the availability of natural resources useful for forest-dependent people, placing their bio-cultural survival under pressure. Ethnobotanical knowledge is directly related to the use of plant resources. Under rapidly changing socio-economic, political and environmental conditions, knowledge with regards to the use of natural resources can be lost within a single generation especially since ethnobotanical knowledge is usually transmitted verbally and rarely even documented. Thus, documentation of ethnobotanical knowledge consequently provides an ancestral legacy for current and future generations.


Botanical Gardens, new saviors of Plant Ecosystems

A botanist works in a greenhouse. / Photo by: belchonock via 123RF


Public engagement in issues such as plant conservation and biodiversity is an important means for gardens to claim social relevance. It is well known that a large proportion of plants are at risk of extinction, which estimates that up to 30% of all species will face serious extinction risks by 2050.

As threats to plants escalate, other organisms within their ecological setting are also of conservation concern. Recognition of the broader threats to entire ecological systems has led to the identification of “biodiversity hotspots”; namely, regions of the world that face particularly grave threats to ecosystems and ecosystem integrity. Recognition of such hotspots has been useful in shaping global conservation priorities and strategies.

Largely missing from the discussion is the potential impact of changes in plant diversity, ecosystem integrity, and ecosystem services on human cultural diversity. Human cultures are influenced and shaped by the natural environment (and vice versa); thus, environmental degradation can lead to social disruption and the loss of cultural integrity and identity.

Many botanic gardens and arboreta offered different services to public users and visitors. In response to well-documented threats to the world's biological diversity, many botanic gardens now consider conservation as a key element in their programs especially some of the major botanic garden professional associations such as American Public Gardens Association, International Association of Botanic Gardens, not to mention the conservation-focused Botanic Gardens Conservation International. Botanic gardens exert greater social and scientific relevance than ever by making major contributions to informal science education, plant genetic conservation, and to studies of climate change and invasive plants.

Botanic gardens are taking an increasingly prominent role in global plant conservation. Some of the most challenging issues the world is focused today are food security, deforestation, pollution, the maintenance of human health, the quality of human life, and resource depletion of all kinds. Plants contribute to both traditional and western medicine in major ways, even more so if their wider roles in maintaining health are included, such as their dietary contributions to food. However, there are also contrasts, especially with regard to folk medicine, with implications for approaches to the conservation of medicinal plants. Traditional medicine tends to use locally growing plants, often collected directly by household members or herbalists.

On a paper published by Alan Hamilton, he stated that various medicinal plants worldwide are declining in response to the development of new pharmaceutical drugs accessible today. Where local traditions of indigenous medical knowledge are critically endangered, as reported for parts of Brazil and Portugal, then there is urgency in documenting indigenous medical knowledge before it is lost.


Impact on environment conservation

Botanic gardens fill an important niche in the plant conservation and research world, primarily through the maintenance, development, and improvement of their living collections. Likewise, the horticultural and scientific expertise of botanic garden staff is basically irreplaceable as it is derived from the accumulation of observations and knowledge over many years and across a worldwide diversity of plant species. This long-term commitment creates a fundamental biological understanding of plants. In the ecological scale of conservation action, botanic gardens naturally gravitate towards the individual plant end of the spectrum.

Traditional medicine is declining in many places. This represents a loss of medical and philosophical knowledge that the world cannot afford to lose. It reduces the interest of people in the diversity of their local plants, weakening the foundation for community-based conservation. In response, knowledge regarding its use whether for commercial or medicinal purposes is lost including ways to pass on this information to others.

A paper published from The New York Botanical Gardens Press by Thomas Carlson entitled “Ethnobotany and Conservation of Biocultural Diversity (Advances in Economic Botany)”, elaborated on the trends rapidly emerging on how ethnobotanists face both cultural and biological extinction. They either focus on the taxonomic classification of plants or its cultural use in various ethnic groups.  This position concludes at the juncture between nature and culture which provides a unique view for accessing information important for plant conservation.

Furthermore, the importance of botanical gardens though minimal compared to the scale of ecosystems in forest reserves, play a natural and important role to the environment conservation by focusing on propagating individual plant species level to an extent of those plant varieties found in other bigger ecosystems.



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