Responsibility Species. In frame of the Federal Biodiversity Initiative 15 endangered plant species were selected that predominantly or even exclusively occur in Germany. Germany bears a specific responsibility for these these species that are in the focus of our project WIPs.de (Wild Plant Protection Germany), where the Botanical Gardens of Berlin, Karlsruhe, Osnabrück, Potsdam and Regensburg as well as the Pedagogic Highschool Karlsruhe participate, and where also official institutions and NGOs are integrated. The usual split of conservation ex-situ (Cultivation in Botanical Gardens) and in-situ (Protection of a habitat and thus, indirectly, also a given species) will be left to join both strategies of protection. Our garden is responsible, together with the Pedagogic Highschool Karlsruhe, for the Southwest of the country.
Step 1 – Collection of seeds. While the breeding of species with human help has been used as successful strategy to conserve animal species,this approach is still exotic for plant species. This is actually astonishing, since seeds can be stored easily at low cost. This even allows to collect the variability within a plant species – even between neighbouring habitats there can be small adaptive differences within a given species. In frame of WIPs.de more than 500 natural habitats will be considered to collect seeds of a maximal intraspecies diversity.
Step 2 – Cultivation. Selected populations will be cultivated in the Botanical Gardens to propagate the endangered plants. This still poses many open questions – evolution does not stop, when a plant moves to the garden. These plants are not genetically homogenous cultivars, but wild populations composed of genetically different individuals. As a wild population adapts to the conditions at the natural site, also a population in the garden will adapt to the conditions in the cultivation bed. How will these cultivated plants differ genetically from the original population? Will these genetic changes impair fitness in the natural site? How to conceive the cultivation to circumvent such changes? These questions require scientifical answers that are based on science.
Step 3 – Resettlement. Genetically impoverished or regionally extinct populations will be reinforced by the material propagated in the garden, in some cases they even will be refounded. Again, it is important that origin of the seeds and the new habitat are matching. Also, the long-term management of the site has to be sustainable. This will only be possible in close cooperation with the responsible authorities and NGOs.
Our goal – autonomy of a species. The idea of WIPs.de is to provide a “reset support” for endangered species. In the long term a species should become autonomous with respect to its survival and propagation in the natural habitat. Of course, this autonomy has to be supported by ecological measures to maintain the site as such, but it cannot be the goal to sustain a natural population artificially by continuous export of ex-situ material.” Only intense scientific research will tell us, which conditions and circumstances are relevant to support that a species will efficiently reacquire autonomy.