Main content area

Resolving whether botanic gardens are on the road to conservation or a pathway for plant invasions

Hulme, Philip E.
Conservation biology 2015 v.29 no.3 pp. 816-824
botanical gardens, ecological invasion, introduced plants, invasive species, issues and policy, monitoring, risk, risk assessment, risk reduction, threatened species, Asia, South America
A global conservation goal is to understand the pathways through which invasive species are introduced into new regions. Botanic gardens are a pathway for the introduction of invasive non‐native plants, but a quantitative assessment of the risks they pose has not been performed. I analyzed data on the living collections of over 3000 botanic gardens worldwide to quantify the temporal trend in the representation of non‐native species; the relative composition of threatened, ornamental, or invasive non‐native plant species; and the frequency with which botanic gardens implement procedures to address invasive species. While almost all of the world's worst invasive non‐native plants occurred in one or more living collections (99%), less than one‐quarter of red‐listed threatened species were cultivated (23%). Even when cultivated, individual threatened species occurred in few living collections (7.3), while non‐native species were on average grown in 6 times as many botanic gardens (44.3). As a result, a botanic garden could, on average, cultivate four times as many invasive non‐native species (20) as red‐listed threatened species (5). Although the risk posed by a single living collection is small, the probability of invasion increases with the number of botanic gardens within a region. Thus, while both the size of living collections and the proportion of non‐native species cultivated have declined during the 20th century, this reduction in risk is offset by the 10‐fold increase in the number of botanic gardens established worldwide. Unfortunately, botanic gardens rarely implement regional codes of conduct to prevent plant invasions, few have an invasive species policy, and there is limited monitoring of garden escapes. This lack of preparedness is of particular concern given the rapid increase in living collections worldwide since 1950, particularly in South America and Asia, and highlights past patterns of introduction will be a poor guide to determining future invasion risks.