Applying the zoo model to conservation of threatened exceptional plant species

Jordan Wood, Jonathan D. Ballou, Taylor Callicrate, Jeremie B. Fant, M. Patrick Griffith, Andrea T. Kramer, Robert C. Lacy, Abby Meyer, Sara Sullivan, Kathy Traylor-Holzer, Seana K. Walsh, Kayri Havens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Maintaining a living plant collection is the most common method of ex situ conservation for plant species that cannot be seed banked (i.e., exceptional species). Viability of living collections, and their value for future conservation efforts, can be limited without coordinated efforts to track and manage individuals across institutions. Using a pedigree-focused approach, the zoological community has established an inter-institutional infrastructure to support long-term viability of captive animal populations. We assessed the ability of this coordinated metacollection infrastructure to support the conservation of 4 plant species curated in living collections at multiple botanic gardens around the world. Limitations in current practices include the inability to compile, share, and analyze plant collections data at the individual level, as well as difficulty in tracking original provenance of ex situ material. The coordinated metacollection framework used by zoos can be adopted by the botanical community to improve conservation outcomes by minimizing the loss of genetic diversity in collections. We suggest actions to improve ex situ conservation of exceptional plant species, including developing a central database to aggregate data and track unique individuals of priority threatened species among institutions and adapting a pedigree-based population management tool that incorporates life-history aspects unique to plants. If approached collaboratively across regional, national, and global scales, these actions could transform ex situ conservation of threatened plant species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1416-1425
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2020


  • botanic gardens
  • conservación ex situ
  • especie excepcional
  • ex situ conservation
  • exceptional species
  • jardines botánicos
  • manejo de linajes
  • metacolecciones
  • metacollections
  • pedigree management
  • zoológicos
  • zoos
  • 动物园
  • 植物园
  • 特殊植物
  • 系谱管理
  • 聚合采集
  • 迁地保护

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Ecology


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