The Devonian Botanic Garden has launched a new program to develop a plant diversity centre for the prairie provinces and northern Canada. The mandate of the Prairie and Northern Plant Diversity Centre (PNPDC) is to promote and facilitate the sustainable management of plant diversity through research, education, information services, and conservation activities.
Plant diversity is being lost rapidly in many parts of the world, including western Canada. This loss is a concern because plant diversity is a vital, irreplaceable resource that requires thoughtful, purposeful management if we are to maintain it into the future.
We live in a solar-powered world. Nearly all of the Earth's ecosystems are driven by solar energy captured by plants and then passed along the food chain. Plants provide essential life support services that maintain conditions favorable to humans and other life (e.g. oxygen, climate, watershed protection, animal habitat, soil nutrients) as well as being the foundation of agriculture, forestry, horticulture, and many pharmaceutical products.
Plant diversity comprises four levels: landscape, community, population, and genetic. Information on all four levels is currently limited and usually difficult to access. PNPDC will focus initially on actions at the genetic and species population levels while developing a knowledge base of plant community types, and a predictive plant diversity model at the landscape level.
Current conservation approaches usually focus on those species most at risk of local extirpation or global extinction. By the time these species have become at high risk, they have often been compromised in numbers and diversity, and their recovery is much more difficult. Thus, PNPC also plans to develop methods to identify declining species before they become severely at risk.
PNPDC will develop a seed bank of native species to provide long term security of genetic and species diversity for both rare and common plants. This material will support research and development, for example, in re-vegetation and reclamation. Some species will be maintained as live plants in gardens where they can also be used for research, education, and public display purposes.
Another task is to develop a comprehensive information system on native plants, both rare and common, including information on geographic distribution, species biology, and conservation status which will be available on the Internet.
Also underway is an education/training program with an emphasis on rare plant survey and monitoring. In response to requests from both industry and government, we plan to conduct the first courses by the end of summer. Plans are to develop a certification program and include topics such as, What Makes a Plant Rare?, Rare Plant Surveys, Identification Workshops for Vascular Plants, Bryophytes and Lichens, Legislation and Policy, and Rare Plant Monitoring. Courses will be held at the Devonian Botanic Garden and other regional locations.
Conserving plant diversity requires a multi-faceted approach and a cooperative effort on both the national and international levels. PNPDC is part of national and international networks, and will play a role as a regional centre for the prairie provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan) and the Northwest Territories. Other regional centres are anticipated to cover other parts of Canada. So far, linkages have been made with the network of conservation data centres in Canada and the USA through the Association for Biodiversity Information-Canada, and with Canadian botanical gardens through the Canadian Botanical Garden Network and the Canadian Botanical Conservation Network.
Internationally, our activities are an important part of Canada's commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) outlined in the Canadian Biodiversity Strategy (1995).
Prairie and Northern Plant Diversity Centre
Devonian Botanic Garden
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2E1
Phone Dr René Belland at (780) 987-3054 ext 2240
Fax (780) 987-4141