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A model for determining ex situ conservation priorities in big genera is provided by analysis of the subgenera of Rhododendron (Ericaceae)

MacKay, Marion, Gardiner, Susan E.
Biodiversity and conservation 2017 v.26 no.1 pp. 189-208
Rhododendron, decision making, ex situ conservation, models, planning, taxonomy
The large size and complex taxonomy of big genera complicates decision making for conservation. We propose that Rhododendron, comprising some 1215 taxa, divided into nine subgenera and many sections, can be used as a model for other big genera. Although Red List assessments placed 715 taxa in a threat category, or listed them as Data Deficient, and moreover Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation requires 75 % of Red List taxa to be held in ex situ collections by 2020, to date there have been few studies of Rhododendron ex situ collections or conservation priorities. Utilising the subgenus structure of Rhododendron as a framework for examining conservation priorities, we analysed the Red List and determined that subgenera Vireya and Hymenanthes have the most acute conservation issues. Examination of taxa in cultivation shows that 844 of 1215 taxa (70 %) are in cultivation, with subgenera varying from 45 to 100 %. Of the 715 Red List taxa, 400 (56 %) are in cultivation, with subgenera varying from 28 to 72 %. Subgenera Vireya and Azaleastrum have the poorest representation in cultivation and should have precedence for ex situ conservation. As no subgenus reaches the requirement for Target 8, further planning is needed for ex situ conservation of Rhododendron. After combining the two analyses, we propose the priorities for ex situ conservation should be ordered (i) Vireya, (ii) Azaleastrum and (iii) Hymenanthes. Finally, we propose five conservation actions for Rhododendron, and summarise our approach as a model for conservation of other big genera.