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Tropical Plant Collections: Legacies from the past? Essential tools for the future?

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Ib Friis (Editor), Henrik Balslev (Editor)

The symposium Tropical Plant Collections: Legacies from the past? Essential tools for the future? was held on 19th–21st May 2015 with botanists from eighteen countries. Balslev and Friis introduced the themes and voiced their concern about negligence of tropical plant collections in many European and American institutions and the dire conditions of funding and staffing in many tropical herbaria and botanical gardens. This happens at the same time as the collections become increasingly important for a series of modern approaches to evolutionary
and biodiversity research and the needs of the biodiversity crisis. Friis gave a broad overview of the history of herbaria and botanical gardens and the changing conceptual frameworks behind their existence. Baldini talked about early Italian botanical collectors and the fate of their collections. Baas accounted for the Golden Age of Dutch botany during pre-colonial and early colonial periods. With the presentation by Cribb on the botany of the British Empire we were fully into the colonial period, focussing on the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. The situation in North America was treated by Funk, who illustrated the development of collections of tropical plants in the USA over the past two hundred years. Sebsebe Demissew taked about the situation in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly problems
related to building and maintaining plant collections in new and poor nations. Onana outlined the history of botanical collections in Cameroon, covering a colonial period that involved Germany, Britain and France, until independence, which was brightened by exemplary collaboration. Muasya focussed on South Africa, which is the most developed country in sub-Saharan Africa with a well-functioning network of herbaria that covers widely different biota. Sanjappa outlined the history of botany in India with emphasis on the importance of The Botanical Survey of India, created during colonial times, but continued and developed after independence. Van Welzen and Schollaardt described
the newer history of Dutch botany, with threats and decline until the recent amalgamations of the herbaria into one single large institution. A section followed on North-South collaboration relative to botanical collections and floristic research. Newman and colleagues presented the Flora of Thailand
project with a history different from most of the other examples because Thailand was never colonized. Nordal and colleagues described how Norway has
had programs to train botanists from a number of African countries. Balslev and colleagues present a successful capacity building project in Ecuador, which
has resulted in a world-class herbarium and a cadre of well-trained taxonomists. Prance described a successful MSc course which he helped initiating in Manaus
Brazil in the 1970s, and which still train researchers in that country. In a section on tropical plant collections and ‘big data’ Feeley demonstrated how dated herbarium records made it possible to trace elevational changes of species distributions, which is of importance to global change studies. Queenborough showed how herbarium collections can be used to study plant functional traits, and Antonelli documented the importance of herbarium voucher specimens for molecular phylogenetic studies and in comparative biogeography. Soberón gave a sobering account of ‘big data’, emphasising their potential in biodiversity research, but warned against developing the methodologies without a sound theoretical basis. In two short sessions the focus was on applied phytochemistry and molecular systematics. Rønsted outlined the dependence on herbaria and botanical gardens’ collections for modern drug discovery. Bakker gave an account of the tantalising possibilities for molecular systematics and other research in the use of herbarium collections, which have opened up for a plethora of additional data to be extracted from dried plant collections. The final talk was Blackmore’s account of the many roles that botanical gardens have had, continue to have and will have in the future, not least in preventing humans from becoming completely detached from the natural world on which we depend.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCopenhagen
PublisherDet Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab
VolumeScientia Danica B, vol. 6
Number of pages320
ISBN (Print)978-87-7304-407-0
StatePublished - 2017
SeriesScientia Danica. Series B, Biologica

    Research areas

  • The Faculty of Science - Botanical history, Botany, herbaria, Tropical Africa, tropical Asia, tropical America, taxonomy, DNA, phytochemistry, Phytogeography, evolution

ID: 189732262