|Is this the biological Eden?|
A leading Bournemouth University (BU) expert in conservation ecology is working to prevent the loss of rare fruit and nut forests in an area of Central Asia, described as a ‘biological Eden’.
The region features in a newly-published Red List of Trees of Central Asia co-authored by a team of international scientists including Professor Adrian Newton from BU’s Centre for Conservation Ecology and Environmental Change.
The publication identifies 44 species of fruit and nut trees in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that face a heightened risk of global extinction. The area is home to over 300 fruit and nut species, including wild apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut. It is believed that many of the domesticated varieties familiar in cultivation today originated from these living ‘ancestors’ which are diminishing in number. In his critically-acclaimed book Wildwood (2007), the late Roger Deakin referred to this region as “Eden”. He also described the tale of the wild apple Malus sieversii – of its origins, propagation along the Silk Road, then dispersal to the rest of the world – as “a cross between the Book of Genesis and the Just So stories: How the apple began”.Malus sieversii has recently been judged to be the genetic progenitor of all domestic apples in cultivation today, by scientists from the University of Oxford (see Barrie Juniper and David Mabberley, ‘The Story of the Apple’, Timber Press, 2006).
According to the Red List report, an estimated 90% of the fruit and nut forests of Central Asia have been destroyed in the past 50 years. The region faces continued threats from over-exploitation, human development, pests and diseases, overgrazing, desertification and fires. A lack of financial resources and infrastructure since the break-up of the Soviet Union has also had a negative impact.
The Red List is published by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International as part of the Global Trees Campaign. The FFI is already working with local communities and government forest services in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to encourage sustainable use and more effective protection for forest resources.
To build on this work, a new collaborative project entitled 'Conserving Eden: participatory forest management in the Tien Shan region' is being launched in Kyrgyzstan this year, led by Professor Newton. With funding from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative, the project will conduct research into threatened trees, provide training to local scientists and engage local communities in forest use planning.
“In a year when we are celebrating the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, it is a great privilege to have the opportunity to help conserve these forests, which have been of such evolutionary importance,” said Professor Newton. “Given their extraordinary role in human history and culture, it is hard to think of any native forests more worthy of conservation. We very much look forward to working with colleagues, both in the UK and in Kyrgyzstan, to help prevent extinction of these wild fruit and nut tree species”.
The Red List of Trees of Central Asia by Dr Antonia Eastwood, Professor Adrian Newton and Georgy Lazkov, is published by Fauna & Flora International in collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) as part of the Global Trees Campaign. The report is produced under the auspices of the Global Tree Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission (SSC). The region concerned covers Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The report is available to download from www.globaltrees.org – a Russian version will be available shortly.
The Global Trees Campaign, a partnership between Fauna & Flora International, Botanic Gardens Conservation International and many other organisations around the world, aims to save threatened tree species through provision of information, conservation action and support for sustainable use. See www.globaltrees.orgRelated links: