Tree conservation for zoologists

The world’s trees are in urgent need of assistance. With more than 9,000 species sliding towards extinction, there is an ever growing need to take action to halt or abate the decline of wild populations.

For nearly all tree species, the protection of healthy and well-connected habitats is the number one priority.

But, just like other species groups, the conservation of many trees also requires a more nuanced approach – think nest-boxes for the last Mauritian kestrels, anti-poaching patrols for Sumatran tigers or hatcheries for loggerhead turtles. Trees too require conservationists to pay attention to detail.

Trees often require species-focused attention. Credit: Li Xiaoya/FFI.

Trees, like animals, often require species-focused attention. Credit: Li Xiaoya/FFI.

A species focus for trees

This kind of attention to detail has long been at the very core of tree conservation. The first daring botanical explorers helped to document and distinguish different trees by using the minutest of details. Today, these traditions are maintained by field botanists who continue to identify and survey tree species, track changes in the wild, reveal new populations and prioritise the most important areas for action.

Learning to ID tree species. Credit: Gail Stott/Ya’axché Conservation Trust.

Learning how to identify species is a core skill for tree conservationists. Credit: Gail Stott/Ya’axché Conservation Trust.

For example, without the knowledge and expertise of scientists at FRIM (Forest Research Institute Malaysia), it is highly likely that Vatica kanthanensis (a tropical tree species from the dipterocarp family found only in one mining concession in Peninsular Malaysia) would already be extinct.

The recovery of the world’s most threatened trees also depends on having people with the right skills and knowledge. As any gardener would tell you, what works for the germination, growth and survival of one plant may fail miserably for another.

The Chauá nursery. Credit: Marian Lechner.

The Chauá nursery. Credit: Marian Lechner.

In Southern Brazil, Global Trees Campaign partner Sociedade Chauá applied its own particular expertise to the challenge of unlocking the secrets behind where, when and how to grow a variety of threatened trees.

As many of their target species are rare, occur in isolated forest patches and are failing to regenerate naturally, their future depends on such species-focused action.

Can you teach a zoologist new tricks?

As a zoologist by training, I am often daunted by the huge amount of specialised information available on botanical conservation. For those people on the periphery – already working in conservation but without a botanical background – it can be difficult to know where to begin.

However, given the scale of the task at hand, there is an unprecedented need to reach out to new groups, including zoologists, conservation NGOs and protected area managers. Without their support it will be impossible to scale up the current level of action.

Helping non-specialists develop the knowledge and skills required to carry out threatened tree conservation is a core aim of the Global Trees Campaign. For example, Fauna & Flora International’s tree capacity building programme in China has provided training, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning for staff from 34 different nature reserves.

By building bridges between research institutions, botanical gardens and nature reserves, the Global Trees Campaign has helped practitioners with little prior formal training carry out new conservation actions for 35 different threatened tree species.

Guidance for non-specialists

To complement the work carried out by our projects on the ground, the Global Trees Campaign has launched a series of simple technical guidance briefs (PDF) to promote best practice for tree conservation.

Each brief covers a different core skill for tree conservation and has been tailored to meet the needs of non-specialists (e.g. anybody with a conservation background but without any particular expertise in botany, forestry or horticulture).

There are nine briefs currently available on the Global Trees Campaign website, which cover the following topics:

  • Carrying out tree surveys
  • Collecting botanical information for identification
  • Monitoring
  • Establishing and managing a small nursery
  • Seed collection
  • Seed processing and storage
  • Germination and seedling growth
  • Solving germination problems
  • Tree planting for population reinforcement

These briefs are currently available in English, although translated versions in Chinese and Spanish will be available in mid-2015.

Using the guidelines

When developing knowledge and skills in tree conservation, there is of course no substitute for committed action over the long-term with the support and guidance of local experts.

We very much hope that these briefs can play a vital part in this journey. Ultimately, we hope they will inspire and assist conservationists to take sustained action for threatened tree species.

This article was originally published by the Global Trees Campaign.