30 May 2018
Our scientific resources are a global asset but the greatest benefits to science, conservation policy and education worldwide come when we form partnerships.
Our vision is to document and understand global plant and fungal diversity and its uses, bringing authoritative expertise to bear on the critical challenges facing humanity today. We can’t do this alone, it takes secure partnerships with governments, research institutions, charities and sponsors to succeed.
We collaborate with around 400 institutions worldwide, working in over 100 countries. Our partners range from botanic gardens in Australia to government ministries in Zambia, with a host of universities and conservation charities in between.
The following projects give a flavour of what a global partnership can achieve. Some are funded by governments, others are funded by corporations or charities. Our research partners include institutions around the world such as universities or botanical gardens.
Could your institution or corporation create or contribute to our next partnership? If so you can find details of how to collaborate with us below.
Accelerating species conservation
The Red List of Threatened Species is a conservation tool that assesses the extinction risk of a species. Devised by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Red List is globally accepted but its usefulness is hampered by the small percentage of known species it covers and, of course, each year there are thousands of species described as being new to science.
In 2016, the Toyota Motor Corporation started a five-year collaboration with the IUCN, the aim was to speed up the delivery of critically important assessments of wild species. The goal of at least 28,000 assessments to be completed by 2020, as part of this collaboration Kew formed the Plant Assessment Unit (PAU). Here dedicated staff provide a focal point for our scientists working on conservation assessments, we plan to add over 4,000 species to the Red List.
Our assessments will range from global assessments of major groups to studies focused on the endemic species of conservation concern in a particular country. These will include a global assessment of Coffea, which ranks second only to oil in terms of value of globally traded commodities.
Conserving the world’s plant and tree seeds
Our Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) is already a global repository for tree seeds, with seed from around 11,000 tree and shrub species, more than any other seed bank in the world. Thanks to funding by the Garfield Weston Foundation, a further 3,000 trees species will be banked under The Global Tree Seed Bank Project. This is one of our major science-based plant conservation programmes, to implement this we work in partnership with universities, botanic gardens and other groups all over the world. Here are three examples.
The Alps Home to 4,500 plants species, this is one of the most biodiverse regions in Europe. Yet even here climate change and the development of tourism is threatening the Alpine habitat and its plants. The Alpine Seed Conservation and Research Network, part of the MSBP, works to conserve 500 plant species from the Alps. Our partners are in four other countries: University of Graz and University of Innsbruck in Austria, the Conservatoire Botanique National Alpin in France, University of Pavia in Italy and Conservatoire et Jardin Botaniques de la Ville de Geneve in Switzerland. This collaboration is funded by the David and Claudia Harding Foundation. By working together, our network can deliver an integrated programme of conservation and research for alpine flora. For example, through ex situ seed storage, making high quality material available for conservation, research and restoration. Together we undertake research to better understand the potential of alpine species to adapt to new environmental conditions and the impacts that environmental change has already had on populations.
New Zealand There are 30 or so species of indigenous myrtles here, many of these traditionally provided Māori with food, medicine and building materials. These indigenous myrtles were previously considered at low risk of extinction but this is now being reassessed, since the appearance of myrtle rust. This is a virulent wind- borne fungal disease found on mainland New Zealand in May 2017 on plants in the nursery trade. The Pacific regional programme of MSBP is collaborating with Te Tira Whakamātaki (the Māori Biosecurity Network) to support Māori who seek long-term seed conservation techniques to protect and conserve this taonga (treasured) plant group that is of great economic, cultural and ecological significance. In December 2017 two five-day courses were organised by the collaborators with contributions from the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, Department of Conservation (DoC) and hosted by Auckland Botanic Gardens and Ōtari-Wilton’s Bush Reserve (Wellington). In addition, representatives from eleven Iwi (tribes), Hapū (sub-tribes) and Māori organisations attended and participated in the courses.
Japan The University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan joined the project in April 2018 and shows how a partnership starts off. Our scientists ran a five-day training course at the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, which was attended by participants from the University of the Ryukyus, Kyushu University and representatives from six other organisations. Since then the participants have been collecting the seeds of tree and shrub species for long-term conservation. Japan is recognised as one the world’s biodiversity hotspots but much of its vegetation has been affected by human activity so seed banking is an important safety net for conservation.
Developing sustainable resources
Colombia Bio is a Colombian government programme to make sustainable economic use of their biodiversity resources. Part of this is a close partnership between their government’s scientific body, Colciencias and Kew. We have been involved in several research projects together since 2017, these are planned to continue until at least 2021-2022.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world but current knowledge is incomplete. To remedy this, projects include biodiversity research and the discovery, identification and naming of plants and fungi. This information on Colombian plants and fungi is fed into our Useful Plants and Fungi Portal, an online global data resource that provides information on the economic, traditional, and potential uses of plants and fungi.
We are also involved in the mapping of vegetation in Colombia and assessing it against climate resilience data, the aim is to find out which areas and plant traits show more, or less resilience to climate change. This research helps the Colombian government prioritise different conservation objectives, such as identifying the most important areas and species to conserve, and where to support ex situ conservation in seed banks. One such seed bank at Boyacá has already been set up by working with partners on the ground.
Boyacá Seed Bank To set this up we started in July 2017 to build capacity for seed conservation and set up a seed laboratory at the Instituto de Investigación de Recursos Biológicos (The Humboldt Institute). We delivered a three-day training course in seed conservation for 18 students, researchers and technicians from eight Colombian institutions. A member of staff from the Humboldt Institute organised the fieldwork where the first collections for the new seed bank were made. Further seed collecting trips followed in November 2017. The trips were incredibly successful, with over 50 seed collections brought to the new seed bank at Villa de Leyva. The collections include a number of species of the genus Espeletia, which is an important part of the vegetation that characterises the páramo landscape. With the help of volunteers who took part of the training in September, the collections are now almost completely cleaned, dried and safely stored for future conservation and research. The UK Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) supported us on this project, as well as the Humboldt Institute we also worked with the Universidad Pedagógica Tecnológica de Colombia (UPTC), Colombia.
Discovering Brazil’s plant diversity
The Reflora programme is an initiative to increase access to and use of Brazilian plant diversity information deposited in institutions within and outside Brazil.
This global partnership was coordinated by the Brazilian National Council for Science & Technology (CNPq), an agency of Brazil’s Ministry for Science, Technology and Innovation. Kew was the first international partner to be invited to participate, by digitising and databasing the Brazilian plant specimens deposited in our collections. Later other institutions with herbaria in Europe and US joined the partnership. We digitally repatriated our results to our Brazilian counterpart, the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden (JBRJ). They developed the Virtual Herbarium of Brazilian plant specimens that was launched in 2013. It contains more than 1.4 million images of Brazilian specimens including more than 206,500 initially contributed by Kew with a further 60,000 images on-going.
Over 110 Brazil-based scientists made study visits to Kew between mid-2012 and early 2016. As well as helping with the programme, they discovered >100 species hitherto unknown to science as well as recording dozens of species not previously known to occur in Brazil.
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