Notables: Alpine Plants & One Health
New N. American Strategy to Protect Alpine Plants
Addressing the need for a global vision to protect plants, the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) was adopted in 2002 and updated in 2012. A program of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity, it rallied conservation organizations and especially, botanic gardens. Since then, many international and country-based strategies with have been developed, including the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation in 2006 (updated in 2016).
Now, the first strategy designed to protect a specific groups of plants has created a blueprint for protecting alpine plants and ecosystems in the US, Canada, and Mexico, fostering collaborative relationships among all three nations. Spearheaded by Nicola Ripley at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens (BFAG) in Vail with help from Jenny Ramp-Neale at Denver Botanic Gardens, The North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation (Alpine Strategy) is intended for any organizations – universities, native plant societies, governments, natural history museums – interested in preserving the fragile alpine environment. It marks the completion of work begun in 2010 by representatives from BFAG, DBG, The Canadian Botanic Gardens, Gardens Conservation Intl, the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and the US Forest Service.
As Science News recently reported, “Alpine plants are losing their white ‘protective coat’ too early in spring” (April 16, 2021). Research from the University of Basel, Switzerland, shows that snow cover in the Alps has been melting almost three days earlier per decade since the 1960’s. The resulting earlier start to the alpine growing season leads to “less growth, fewer flowers, and a lower survival rate for alpine plants due to frost.” Though less threatened by human activity and habitat loss than other plant groups, alpines and their ecosystems all over the world are especially threatened by climate change.
Alpines are the iconic plants of the Colorado Rockies. There is evidence of more amplified warming at higher elevations and differences are already being seen in pollinators, treeline levels, and species composition. Data from NOAA shows that the American West has become 1.4° C warmer from 1908 to 2007, more than 0.5° higher than the planet as a whole. And a 100-year study of temperature trends in Western Montana finds the rise in extremes and seasonal averages is 2-3 times greater than the global average. Desertification is expected to increase in semi-arid to arid drylands, including the U.S. Southwest that contains Rocky Mt. alpine ecosystems.
There are four Objectives in the Alpine Strategy, each with specific targets. For example, under Objective 2 – “Conserve alpine plants and their habitats”- one Target is “Conserve 60% of threatened alpine plant species in North America in situ by 2030.” And Objective 3, “Promote awareness of the alpine ecosystem and plant diversity through education and outreach”, includes this statement about botanic gardens: “It is not enough to just inform visitors about the need for alpine plant conservation…. Supplying pathways to be active in conservation projects is essential.”
Objective 4 addresses the decline in formal botanical education programs at all levels and concern about “the general lack of basic botany and plant identification skills in the current generation of scientists.” There is a shortage of botanists and horticulturists at the very moment they are most needed to “stem the growing loss of the world’s plants and threats to botanical diversity.”
The Alpine Strategy can be downloaded as a pdf from the BFAG website at: bettyfordalpinegardens.org/conservation/
‘One Health’ Recognizes Our Shared Environment
According to the CDC website, One Health is an approach recognizing that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. It involves collaboration across all sectors and has become more important in recent years as so many factors have changed the interactions between people, animals, plants, and our environment.
Can we have human health if our domesticated animals, wildlife, plants, and other life forms are unhealthy, polluted, poisoned, weak, and struggling? The answer seems to be NO. Climate Change “…coupled with a species-extinction crisis, habitat and soil degradation, pollution, extensive destruction of forests and coral reefs…” are all leading to our current health crisis.
These views emerged in a conference in October 2019, attended by 200 experts, which generated a call to action called The Berlin Principles. These 10 principles say basically that if we are to prevent future and worse pandemics, we must recognize and support the essential health links between humans, animals, and all beings on our planet including microbes. We must support biodiversity which is critical to the infrastructure of life, health, and well-being. This understanding must develop into strong institutions based on robust science and into policy and action. Our decisions about our use of land, air, sea, and fresh water directly impact the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems. When ecosystems are altered, becoming less resilient, we become vulnerable to more diseases. For more info see One World One Health and Science Direct.