News Release

Sinkhole Cycad Conservation Project Featured in Leading Botanical Journal

25 January 2015
Sinkhole Cycad
Photo: Montgomery Botanical Centre

The Sinkhole Cycad project made an important scientific finding – botanic garden conservation collections can help support cycad survival.

The current issue of International Journal of Plant Sciences features the latest SOS-Save Our Species supported research by grantee, Montgomery Botanical Centre (MBC) and its collaborators. The paper, “Can a botanic garden cycad collection capture the genetic diversity in a wild population?,” explores how well the collecting protocols at MBC conserve the genes in wild cycads.

Using the Sinkhole Cycad, Zamia prasina, as a model, the team compared genetics of the native cycads with those grown at MBC.

Project Team with Zamia prasina Photo: MIchael CalonjeMichael Calonje led the effort to survey and describe this interesting species in 2009, and is co-author on the new paper. Michael explains, “because it occurs in dense groups at the bottom of sinkholes and is not found in the adjacent rainforest, the Sinkhole Cycad allows us the unique opportunity to sample the genetic diversity of entire populations and compare it to that of seedlings derived from seeds collected in these populations.”

Sinkhole Cycad Habitat Photo: Michael CalonjeThe study details what steps should be taken to successfully conserve cycads through careful horticulture, based on DNA analysis. “Considering the biology of the species is the first step,” states Patrick Griffith, lead author on the study.

Patrick further adds: "This is a very fundamental question for botanic garden efforts: Can we actually conserve plant species via horticulture? The answer is yes, if you follow Young cycads at Belize Botanic Garden Photo: Patrick Griffithcareful guidelines".

This is important because it provides an in-depth, scientific perspective to that basic question. "Beyond that, what makes this so exciting for me is how we brought a group of experts together – a multi-institutional and international team – and worked together to produce such a useful outcome".

"Our great colleagues made this possible, and the support of the SOS-Save Our Species grant built that team. The paper involved experts from Belize Botanic Gardens, USDA Chapman Field, and Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as MBC."

The paper has also been made freely available and open-access by the editors of International Journal of Plant Sciences – allowing conservation workers around the world to review the study at no cost.

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