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Ex situ Conservation of the Flora of the Caucasus

The purpose of this project is the ex situ conservation of the flora of the Caucasus, with the majority of the work to date carried out in Georgia. All targeted species are conserved as seed bank collections and some have also been propagated.

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Sandro Kolbaia, Ilia State University, Georgia

Kew and Georgian scientists carry out joint fieldwork in Georgia, October 2011 (Image: Sandro Kolbaia, Ilia State University, Georgia)

The Caucasus region is an internationally recognised biodiversity hotspot, home to over 6,000 plant species of which more than 25% are endemic – the highest level of endemism in the temperate world. Around 2,000 species have direct economic value and many local variations of domestic crops as well as their wild relatives (especially wheat and legumes) are found. However, biodiversity of the Caucasus is being lost at an alarming rate, mostly due to logging, fuelwood harvesting, overgrazing and infrastructure development.

Since 2006 the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has been working with Georgian scientists to conserve this flora through seed banking and living collections. This collaboration started through the MSBP Seed Banking Worldwide project but has continued since 2009 as a project in its own right.

A key focus of the project has been developing the facilities and infrastructure for conservation of wild plant species in Georgia at the ‘Seed Bank of the Caucasus’ in Tbilisi. Training and capacity building has focused on providing simple but appropriate equipment and imparting the scientific understanding to handle collections appropriately. The project also provided formal training to Georgian scientists on the use of the BRAHMS database and the seed bank now maintains a BRAHMS database of all its collections.

Today around 12 scientists are actively involved in the project and to date around 850 plant species have been conserved as seed bank collections in Georgia, duplicated to the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew. The priority is endemic and threatened species.

Since 2009 the project has started to work on the propagation of some of the most threatened species in its collections. In 2011 in-depth studies started at Kew and in Tbilisi on propagation of five priority species.

It is hoped that the project in Georgia will expand across the Caucasus in the future. In 2011 Kew signed an Access and Benefit Sharing Agreement with the Institute of Botany in Armenia and pilot activities were initiated. Talks have also been held with the Institute of Botany and the Institute of Genetic Resources in Azerbaijan. Kew has held formal talks with Berlin Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum (BGBM) who have developed a ‘Pan Caucasian Plant Initiative’ and the two organizations agreed to develop complementary programmes to deliver plant conservation in this region.

The Georgian programme is ongoing and aims to conserve around 100 species per year for the next 5 years. Plans have been developed to significantly improve the seed bank facilities. It is planned to hold a formal seed conservation diploma course for the Caucasus in 2012. Talks are on-going to develop the programmes in Armenia and Azerbaijan. All these plans are dependent on finding funding. Fundraising has been initiated.

Key papers published since 2006

  • Kobakhidze L. and M. Eristavi (2010) Reproduction Biology of the Caucasus Endemic Salvia garedji Troitzk. (Lamiaceae) with Regard to Ex-situ Conservation. Bulletin of the Georgian National Academy of Sciences. vol.4, 3, September-October-November-December, pp. 96-98
  • Melia N., L. Gabedava, T. Barblishvili, L. Jgenti (2011) Reproductive Biology Studies Towards the Conservation of Two Rare Species of Colchic Flora, Arbutus andrachne and Osmanthus decorus. Turkish Journal of Botany, 35 In press.
  • Mikatadze-Pantsulaia T., T. Barblishvili, C. Trivedi, D.Kikodze & M. Khutsishvili (2010) Ex–situ Conservation of Endemic and Protected Plant Species in Georgia" Kew Bulletin, vol.65: 643-648
  • Mikatadze-Pantsulaia T., M. Eristavi, L.Kobakhidze, M. Davlianidze (2008) Ex situ Conservation of some Economically Important Relict Plant Species Distributed in Georgia. Proc. Georgian Acad. Sci. Biol. Ser. B Vol. 6, 3-4, pp. 30-38
  • Mikatadze-Pantsulaia T., Z. Gamtsemlidze, M. Khutsishvili (2006) Reproduction Biology and Ex-situ Conservation of Cyclamen vernum Sweet. Bulletin of the Georgian Academy Sciences 173, 2.

Project partners and collaborators

Georgia
  • Institute of Botany, Ilia State University
  • National Botanical Garden of Georgia
Armenia
  • Institute of Botany of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences

Conferences and workshops

  • XVIII International Botanical Congress, Melbourne, Australia, July 23-30 2011. P0121 – ePoster: "Ex situ conservation of seeds of native species of Georgian flora at the Caucasus Regional Seed Bank, Georgia, and the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" T. Mikatadze-Pantsulaia, M. Eristavi, L. Kobakhidze, D. Kikodze, T. Barblishvili, M. Khutsishvili, C. Trivedi, J. Terry, V. Sutcliffe.
  • 2nd International Symposium on Medicinal Plants, Their Cultivation and Aspects of Uses, Petra, Jordan  November 3-4 2010. Poster presentation: "Sustainable Use and Conservation of some Endemic Medicinal Plant Species in Georgia" T. Mikatadze-Pantsulaia, T. Barblishvili, M. Khutsishvili.
  • Plant Conservation for the Next Decade: A Celebration of Kew’s 250th Anniversary, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 12-16 October 2009. Poster presentation: "Ex–situ conservation of endemic and protected plant species in Georgia" T. Mikatadze-Pantsulaia, T. Barblishvili, C. Trivedi, D. Kikodze & M. Khutsishvili. Oral presentation: "Plant Conservation Projects in Georgia" D. Kikodze, Tbilisi Botanical Garden and Institute of Botany, Georgia.