Ex Situ Conservation of Threatened UK Bryophytes
Novel methods pioneered for initiation, growth and storage of threatened UK bryophytes in aseptic culture and cryopreservation. A collection of species of high conservation concern in cryostorage with trials to reintroduce cryo-preserved material to natural sites.
The UK bryophyte flora is of global significance but despite this at least 10% of the c.1000 species are threatened and 111 listed on UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP).
Besides offering ‘insurance’ against loss in the wild, ex situ collections of bryophytes are fundamental to translocation/reintroductions and provide material for experimental methods to be tested in laboratory and field. They offer the opportunity to understand population biology and genetic conservation issues through molecular screening and can play a role in revealing underlying biological developmental processes.
In 2000 The UK Country Agencies (Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales) in partnership with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, launched the ex situ project for the conservation of threatened bryophytes, the first such project of its kind in the world. At the close of the 2nd phase in December 2006 when funding ceased, 21 priority species (29 accessions) chosen in collaboration with BAP Lead Partners from World, European, and UK Red Lists had been propagated axenically and placed as a cryopreserved collection in liquid nitrogen.
During the project, novel methods were developed for initiation and propagation of living material in aseptic culture, ’weaning’ ex situ material onto natural substrates, establishing collecting protocols, and monitoring of survival post-cryopreservation. Material was deposited in the DNA bank in the Jodrell laboratory at Kew and a re-introduction trial was also initiated using ex situ material of Orthodontium gracile. Other outputs of the project include several papers published in scientific journals, promotion of bryophyte conservation to a general audience and provision of advice and material for scientific research. The project is represented by Margaret Ramsay on the IUCN Species Survival Commission Bryophyte Specialist Group (IUCN SSC BSG) and Reintroduction Specialist Group and on the board of the European Committee for Conservation of Bryophytes (ECCB).
With Target 8 of GSPC stating that 60% of threatened plant species should be in accessible ex situ collections , the partnership between Natural England and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was re-established in 2010, with funding for 3 years.
Propagation and cryopreservation techniques are being used to secure addition priority taxa in the existing ex situ collection and methods developed for spore cryopreservation and problematic species. Feasibility planning has begun for a systematic programme for an ex situ conservation collection of all UK bryophytes – a bryophyte ‘spore bank’.
The conservation significance of selected bryophytes is recognised at a European level in Red Lists and 26 species are conferred protection within the Bern Convention. Several laboratories and organisations are now involved with ex situ conservation of bryophytes. A European network for in vitro conservation of bryophytes has been established (http://www.ebesconet.org) with the aim of establishing a living tissue collection, a cryopreserved collection and a spore collection maintained at various sites within Europe.
Key publications 2006-2011
Rowntree,J.K. (2006). Development of novel methods for the initiation of in vitro bryophyte cultures for conservation. Plant Cell Tissue Organ Culture 87: 191-201.
Rowntree, J.K., Duckett, J.G., Mortimer, C.L., Ramsay, M.M. & Pressel, S.P. (2007). Formation of specialized propagules resistant to desiccation and cryopreservation in the threatened moss Ditrichum plumbicola Crundw (Ditrichales, Bryopsida). Annals of Botany 100: 483-496.
Rowntree J. K., &Ramsay M.M. (2009) How bryophytes came out of the cold: successful cryopreservation of threatened species. Biodivers. Conserv. 18:1413-1420.
Rowntree J.K., Cowan R.S., Leggett, M., Ramsay, M.M. & Fay M.F. (2010). Which moss is which? Identification of the threatened moss Orthodontium gracile using molecular and morphological techniques. Conservation Genetics 11(3): 1033-1042.
Rowntree, J.,K. Pressel, S., Ramsay, M.M., Sabovljevic, A. & Sabovljevic, M. (2011). In vitro conservation of European bryophytes. In Vitro Cell. Dev. Biol.—Plant 47: 55–64.
Project Partners and Collaborators
Countryside Council for Wales
Scottish Natural Heritage
Natural History museum
Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh
British Bryological Society
Dr J.K Rowntree, University of York
Scottish Natural Heritage
Countryside Council for Wales: 2001-2006
Natural England 2010 -2012
Table of cryopreserved species