In a programme undertaken through the support of Department of Biotechnology (DBT), GoI for conservation of 156 threatened plant species under different disciplines of conservation biology during the past three decades have been compiled and reviewed. A successfully tested protocol following an integrated approach for threatened species conservation is recommended for future conservation action.
Traditionally, community conserved areas throughout the country such as sacred groves and other community based protected areas have been providing in situ conservation opportunities for the threatened species. However, under government initiative, prioritization of threatened species and conservation actions are largely centered on flagship faunal species. These include in situ conservation measures, e.g. delineation and safeguarding of protected areas such as biosphere reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and reserved/protected forests, and large-scale habitat protection for threatened faunal species such as snow leopard, musk deer, elephant and tiger. The important ex situ conservation measures include captive breeding for several mammals. However, very few successful case studies/initiatives are available for threatened plant species of India, although under umbrella species conservation programmes targeting big mammals, threatened plants get conserved. A few in situ conservation measures for plant groups are those of Orchid Sanctuary at Sessa in Arunachal Pradesh, and Rhododendron Sanctuary at Singba in Sikkim. Field germplasm banks and institutional botanic gardens are the only means of ex situ conservation of threatened plant species. Such programmes generally focus on ex situ conservation of medicinally and economically important plants, and on-farm conservation of agricultural crops. All these activities are largely mentored and executed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, and Ministry of Agriculture, GoI.
DBT has undertaken several plant species-specific recovery programmes targeting 156 highly threatened species of the country during the past three decades. These species belong to 101 genera and 64 families, and comprise of 50 herbs, 42 trees, 24 orchids, 14 shrubs, 14 climbers, 3 bamboos, 3 palms, 3 rattans, 2 cycads, and 1 tree fern.
One of the most important mega network programmes of DBT entitled, ‘Preventing extinction and improving the conservation status of threatened plants through application of biotechnological tools’ was initiated during 2012 that successfully conserved 100 threatened species of India.
This programme took an integrated approach for species conservation such as resolving the taxonomic dispute, preparing herbarium records, establishing field germplasm bank, population characterization, distribution mapping, reclassification of threat status, reproductive biology, molecular characterization, bioactive compound profiling, standardization of micropropagation and macropropagation protocols and multiplication, and reintroduction in natural habitats.
The present review reveals that survey and threat assessment of threatened plants in India are limited to specific geographical regions. Species-specific conservation plan, fundamental to recovery strategy is completely missing.
Threat and conservation status assessments are based mostly on herbarium records and classification based on population data is available only for a few species. Information on species range and population size is incomplete. There is a lack of concerted and coordinated effort to visualize a larger picture of threatened plants conservation in the country. The integrated approach recently taken by the department for species conservation has been extremely successful. Such an approach needs to be replicated for saving more than 2000 threatened species of the country. Both the demographic as well as genetic enrichment approaches taken in threatened species conservation programme under DBT network project involve ten major steps.
Threatened plant conservation protocol: ten steps