Are We Naïve to Think We Can Save Rare Plants from Extinction?

David A. Burney


In places such as the Hawaiian Islands, where over half the native flora may be at risk of extinction in coming decades, the criticism is sometimes raised that the situation is so hopeless that the talents, energy and money of botanical gardens and other plant conservation organizations is largely wasted in trying to save these plants. Although stories of failure abound, it is important to recognize that considerable progress is being made. Organizations such as the National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG) have led the way in this eleventh-hour effort, not by naïvely pursuing failed strategies, nor by pulling back and only pursuing very limited goals, but by approaching the huge challenges with an energetic pioneering spirit. By taking an innovative comprehensive approach, dealing with the crisis at the level of ecosystems and plant communities rather than merely individual species, NTBG and other organizations are making progress on a broad front that integrates a range of scales and techniques and adapts to the shifting circumstances through careful monitoring and a spirit of optimism that is coupled with scientific scepticism.

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