Collecting the flora of Kyrgyzstan
Although Kyrgyzstan is only the size of Great Britain, it holds great floristic wealth due to its mountainous terrain which provides a wide variety of habitats from temperate grassland, to high mountain meadows, conifer forest and cold steppe. Kyrgyzstan is home to about 4,100 higher plant species. Of these, 139 are endemic and around 1500 are endemic to the Mountains of Central Asia Hotspot identified by Conservation International in 2005.
Kyrgyzstan is well known for the variety of valuable medicinal herbs that are found (around 200 species) but altogether about 1,600 species have use values. These known uses place species at risk of over-collection, in particular those with great ornamental value. Other pressures on the flora include a shift from nomadic cattle-rearing to intensive agriculture, and other land use changes such as mining, construction, road-building and deforestation. Approximately 400 species have been identified as rare and threatened in the 1998 Red Data Book of Kyrgyzstan.
Since 2004 Kew scientists have been collaborating with colleagues in the research institutes of the Kyrgyzstan National Academy of Sciences to improve knowledge of the country's flora and facilitate its conservation.
The Institute of Biotechnology of the Academy of Sciences of the Kyrgyz Republic first worked with Kew under the MSBP Seed Banking Worldwide programme, in 2005. Since then Kew has supported the Institute of Biotechnology and its sister Institute of Biology and Pedology to continue fieldwork for seed collecting and facilities for seed conservation. To date over 400 species from Kyrgyzstan have been conserved both in-country and at the Millennium Seed Bank.
In 2008 Kew staff undertook fieldwork in Kyrgyzstan in order to develop Kew’s herbarium and living collections in this previously poorly represented region. This field work resulted in over 200 collections of herbarium specimens and 83 seed collections. The seed collections, and the knowledge of the natural conditions in which they grow, have been used to enhance Kew’s living collections from this region. The unused seed is conserved in the Millennium Seed Bank. Herbarium specimens have contributed to the revision of the genus Abelia. Also 57 DNA samples were taken and these are in the Jodrell Laboratory DNA bank.
In 2009 formal training in seed collecting and processing was provided to Kyrgyz scientists from a range of organizations. Thanks to this training, scientists from the Botanical Gardens have now also joined the seed collecting programme.
Seed is stored at the Institute of Biotechnology and Kew has helped source simple equipment for this seedbank. Collections are duplicated to the UK, and the collections held in country are studied with the aim of identifying potential future uses of plant species, in particular medicinal uses.
A key aim for the future is to develop deeper collaboration with partners in Kyrgyzstan, around horticulture, seed conservation and research into properties and uses of the plants of Kyrgyzstan. A visit to the UK by Kyrgyz scientists is planned in February 2012 to develop this work.
Project partners and collaborators
- Institute of Biotechnology, Kyrgyzstan National Academy of Sciences
- Institute of Biology and Pedology, Kyrgyzstan National Academy of Sciences
- Botanic Gardens and Arboretum, Kyrgyzstan National Academy of Sciences
- Arcadia Foundation