Southeast Environmental Research Program, Florida International University
Center for Plant Conservation

An Action Plan to Conserve the Native Plants of Florida


Recommendation Four: In situ and ex situ plant conservation activities should be informed by integrated conservation plans. These should be based upon research-based protocols for maintenance of genetic diversity, horticultural treatments, reduction or elimination of threat, and selection and monitoring of restoration sites and methods.

In situ and ex situ plant conservation activities have sometimes been characterized as having distinct agendas, but they are in fact complementary sides of the same plant conservation coin. While ex situ collections are important genetic libraries for rare plant taxa and exceptional resources for research and public education, their high est value is realized when they serve to restore rare plants to natural evolutionary settings. Moreover, when native plant populations are reduced to points where they approach extirpation or even extinction, ex situ conservation and rare plant horticulture become critical to species survival itself. As desirable as in situ conservation is to the long term viability of native species and ecosystems, the reality is that parks, preserves, and other Conservation Areas simply cannot provide complete protection for the full range of Florida's rare plants. Initiated by the U.S. Forest Service, the tenets of "ecosystem management" have been widely adopted by resource management agencies in Florida. Ecosystem management elevates the health of the ecosystem above single- species considerations in determining the management strategies applied to public lands.

While it promises to be of great benefit to Florida native plants, and we support the implementation of ecosystem management in Florida's Conservation Areas, instances can and do arise in which ecosystem-level considerations cannot ensure the preservation of individual taxa. When such situations occur, in situ management and the availability of an ex situ capability have proven to be exceedingly useful, when combined, in assuring the continued viability of the population involved.

Because safeguarding our native plant resources today usually involves multiple tasks, diverse types of expertise, and constant cooperation within the in situ and ex situ plant conservation communities, it is fundamentally important that integrated conservation plans be developed for all Florida plants of conservation concern. Such plans need to consider the full range of research-based conservation-related data including, if possible, detailed information on biogeography and population numbers, reproductive biology, threats to native populations and threat mitigation, adequacy of genetic representation in both on-site and off-site settings, selection of sites and monitoring protocols in reintroduction projects, etc.

As emphasized in the reintroduction guidelines produced both by the TNC and the DEP (described above), the existence of such plans, and a history of in situ and ex situ collaboration become especially important during the planning, design, implementation, and monitoring of reintroduction projects. Indeed, it is here that in situ and ex situ concepts, methods, and personnel will interact most closely. Reintroductions occurring within such contexts should involve in situ and ex situ scientists and managers as full partners, and be based upon a well-defined and understood division of labor.

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