Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership – Asturias, Spain
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership with Jardín Botánico Atlántico (Asturias) is helping to conserve endemic and threatened species in the Cantabrian Region and Pyrenees in the north of Spain across three biogeographical regions (Atlantic, Alpine and Mediterranean).
Picos de Europa: seed collecting field trip 2012
View photos from the seed collecting field trip
Flora diversity in the Cantabrian region and Pyrenees
The plant diversity of the Pyrenees is one of the highest in Europe (5,500 species) and the Cantabrian territory also has outstanding plant diversity (3,590 species). In both cases, this high diversity is due to the complexity of these mountain ranges, which have a high altitudinal gradient and a wide diversity of climates, geology and ecosystems.
Around 200 taxa are endemic to the Pyrenees and 400 taxa are endemic to the Pyrenees-Cantabrian territory. Several boreoalpine and alpine species are at their southern distribution limit here and some species have isolated populations. In the Cantabrian territory-Pyrenees there are several threatened habitats at European level and several species of the alpine mountain zones, adapted to cold weather, are being replaced by plant species from lower mountain zones due to the global warming process.
Securing seeds for the future in the Cantabrian region and Pyrenees
Biodiversity scenarios for the 21st century predict a significant reduction of mountain habitats and the loss of many high mountain plants due to climate change and the impact of human activity. Every one degree rise in temperature could mean the loss of 10% of plant species, and habitats such as mountains and islands may be at great risk. On top of this, some factors like mining, ski resorts and land use changes are having a negative impact on the biodiversity of mountain areas.
The Cantabrian territory and Pyrenees are areas of high plant diversity and in particular of endemic plant life (plants only present within the Cantabrian territory, Pyrenees and neighbouring mountains) that are likely to be affected by this scenario. Studies suggest that climate change could directly threaten the biodiversity of the Cantabrian region and Pyrenees, and reduce vascular plant life by one third or even half (due to disappearance or drastic reduction of habitat).
Given this evidence, collecting and banking high quality seed collections of mountain plant species is an effective tool for ensuring the long term conservation of wide genetic diversity, providing propagation material to re-establish wild plant populations and enabling habitat restoration.
The Pyrenees and Cantabrian territory are subject to some of the radical transformations associated with climate change, such as:
- melting glaciers
- decrease in snow cover
- the retreat of plant species to high altitudes
- phenological variation in plant life
- the advance of harvest dates
These are associated with human activities, such as:
- urban expansion
- sport activities
- changes in land use
- the monoculture of exotic tree species
In addition, mountain areas are particularly sensitive to climate change (IPCC, 2007) and give an insight into how climate change could affect other regions.
Plant populations are expected to shift to higher altitudes in response to warming. In fact, all over Europe all high mountain species have experienced an altitude increase of 2.7 meters in just seven years, and heat-loving plants (thermophite plants) are overtaking alpine species that are more adapted to cold. It is also important to bear in mind that temperatures are rising faster in mountainous regions, making them particularly vulnerable to climate change.
Ecosystems have an intrinsic ability to adapt, which on many occasions involves moving in search of ideal conditions. However, with high mountain flora this possibility is restricted due to the altitude of the Pyrenees and Cantabrian territory and the fact that the colonisable surface is limited. As plants cannot 'climb' higher than the top of the mountain this would cause the extinction of native plants adapted to the cold, such as:
- the dwarf willow Salix pyrenaica
- Androsace ciliata
- Androsace cantabrica
- Saxifraga pubescens subsp. iratiana
- Leuzea cynaroides
- Gentiana burseri
- Crepis pyrenaica
- Ranunculus pyrenaeus
- Geranium cinereum
These changes will also affect a group of alpine and boreal plants species for whom this area is their southern border of distribution and that are refugees in shaded high areas of the mountains, such as:
- Kobresia myosuroides
- Carex capillaris
- Silene suecica
- Vaccinium gauteroides
- Empetrum nigrum
The changes will also have had negative effects on some species of fauna that depend directly on plants and ecosystems, like bumblebees in the Cantabrian territory.
Plants play a pivotal role in maintaining life on Earth and don’t always get the attention they deserve. Plants are where carbon, nutrients and energy enter ecosystems and provide both physical habitat and the living and dead material that supports the animal food chain.
For all these reasons it is important:
- to gather genetic material for conservation in seed banks of the plants that are most vulnerable to global warming as a preventive conservation measure
- to keep monitoring their conservation status
- to research their germination and cultivation requirements, in order to be ready if we need to use them for restoration
Jardín Botánico Atlántico
The University of Oviedo was established in 1608. It is a public institution, with more than 1,500 researchers and 250 research groups, devoted to higher education teaching and research that fosters the social, economic and cultural development of the local community through the generation and diffusion of knowledge. Today, it has become the main research centre of the Principado de Asturias, a Spanish autonomous region with a population of over one million inhabitants located in the north-west of Spain.
The installations at the University are organized in several campuses which are structured in Departments, Faculties, Schools and University Institutes. In the city of Gijon, the University of Oviedo has formalized a convention with the local council for developing a research line in the Jardín Botánico Atlántico , the only botanical garden in Spain that focuses on the flora and vegetation of the Atlantic regions. The Jardín Botánico Atlántico is the main seed bank and botanical garden in the Spanish Atlantic región. It is strategically located in the middle of the Cantabrian territory in Gijón.
The research activity is focused on the topic 'Plant Diversity and Conservation'. The scientific staff is headed by Tomás Emilio Díaz, and the plant conservation programme coordinated by Alvaro Bueno Sánchez. Other personnel include PhD students, field botanists and researchers from INDUROT and Botany Departments of Oviedo University. During the last 10 years, the University of Oviedo-Jardín Botánico Atlántico staff have developed different projects regarding ex situ conservation at local, national and international level, including all the procedures related to seed collection and conservation.
Its staff have an outstanding knowledge of the flora and vegetation of the Cantabrian region and have been actively contributing to the in situ and ex situ conservation of Cantabrian Region flora for several decades.
The JBA coordinates the Cantabrian Network for Flora Conservation in Sociedad Española de la Biología de Conservación de Plantas (SEBICOP) .
The Jardín Botánico Atlántico has been a Millennium Seed Bank partner since October 2011, and since then has been collecting seeds of endemic plants in the Cantabrian region and sending duplicates to the MSB. There is a strong collaboration between Jardín Botánico Atlántico and the Banco Vasco de Germoplasma Vegetal/Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi .
Seed collecting trips
- In 2012 a joint field trip was made to Picos de Europa. (see gallery above)
- In 2013 a joint field trip was made to the Pyrenees. To find more read the Pyrenees field trip post.
- Jardín Botánico Atlántico
- Banco Vasco de Germoplasma Vegetal/Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi
- Northern Spain Endemic Flora
- Basque Country
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