Conservation of Ascension Island’s Endemic Plants - Project completed (2008-2010)
Developing species action plans for Ascension's endemic plants
Endemic ferns from Ascension in the newly developed propagation house
Photo: Colin Clubbe
Ascension Island’s unique flora is under threat from invasive introduced species (both plant and animal) and loss of habitat, with only small areas of undisturbed vegetation remaining, principally in the highland elevations of Green Mountain National Park.
This project was designed to develop Species Action Plans for the six surviving endemic plant species on Ascension – two flowering plants and four ferns.
Members of Kew’s horticultural team worked with project staff to plan improvements to the island’s plant nurseries and to initiate germination and cultivation trials. These formed the basis of horticultural protocols so that endemic species could be reliably propagated and grown on to a suitable size for reintroduction to protected sites. The Kew UKOTs team provided training for project staff both at Kew and in the field. Seed collected from Euphorbia origanoides and Sporobolus caespitosus was banked in the Millennium Seed Bank. Spores from the four ferns (Marratia purpurascens, Xiphopteris ascensionensis, Pteris adscensionis and Asplenium ascensionis) were sent to Kew’s Conservation Biotechnology Section (CBS) for cultivation under controlled conditions and cryopreservation. DNA samples from different populations of each endemic species are now at Kew for future genetic analysis.
Major project outputs comprised:
- Updated the red-listing documentation for each species and re-assessment of their Red List status
- Updated maps of the remaining natural sites
- Horticultural protocols for propagation and cultivation of the six species
- Improving propagation and cultivation facilities on Ascension
- Training in threatened species management delived for Ascension Island project staff
- Ex situ conservation collections established of Ascension’s endemic plants in both seed banks (at the Millennium Seed Bank) and in cultivation on Ascension and at Kew
- Genetic samples of endemic plants banked in Kew’s DNA Bank
- Public awareness of Ascension’s endemic plants raised locally and internationally
These activities supported the Ascension Island Government meeting Targets 3, 5, 7, 8 and 15 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.
While the project was underway, another endemic fern, the Ascension parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis) which was believed to be extinct, was rediscovered on an unstable rock face and under threat from an invasive fern. Spore-bearing fronds collected from this fern were dispatched to Kew, where the CBS managed to germinate them and establish plantlets in cultivation. Although still vulnerable in its re-discovered habitat, this species has been successfully secured ex situ.
Herbarium specimens of all the Ascension’s endemic plants have been digitized and incorporated in the UKOTs Online Herbarium so that they are available as a resource for future conservation activities on the island.
Project partners and collaborators
Conservation Department, Ascension Island Government
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), Edinburgh
Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC)
Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) – Project No. ASC503
Clubbe, C. & Hamilton, M., & Corcoran, M. (2010). Using the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation to Guide Conservation Implementation in the UK Overseas Territories. Kew Bulletin 65: 509-717.
Conference papers and reports
Lambdon, P., Stroud, S., Clubbe, C., Gray, A., Hamilton, M., Nissalo, M., Pelembe, T., and Renshaw, O., (2009). A plan for the conservation of endemic and native flora on Ascension Island
Niissalo, M., Renshaw, O., and Stroud, S., (2010). Ascension Island Endemic Plants Project OTEP Project ASC 503 Propagation Protocols