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National Botanic Garden of Belgium: global survey on plant reintroductions

3 December 2010

Reintroduction of native species has become increasingly important in conservation worldwide for recovery of rare species and restoration purposes. However, few studies have reported the outcome of reintroduction efforts in plant species. Using data from the literature combined with a questionnaire survey, a team of 20 scientists led by a researcher of the National Botanic Garden of Belgium analysed 249 plant species reintroductions worldwide by assessing the methods used and the results obtained from these reintroduction experiments.

The objectives were:

  1.  to examine how successful plant species reintroductions have been so far in establishing or significantly augmenting viable, self-sustaining populations in nature;
  2. to determine the conditions under which we might expect plant species reintroductions to be most successful;
  3. to make the results of this survey available for future plant reintroduction trials.

Results indicate that survival, flowering and fruiting rates of reintroduced plants are generally quite low (on average 52%, 19% and 16%, respectively). Furthermore, the study shows a success rate decline in individual experiments with time. Survival rates reported in the literature are also much higher (78% on average) than those mentioned by survey participants (33% on average). The authors identified various parameters that positively influence plant reintroduction outcomes, e.g., working in protected sites, using seedlings, increasing the number of reintroduced individuals, mixing material from diverse populations, using transplants from stable source populations, site preparation or management effort and knowledge of the genetic variation of the target species.

This study also revealed shortcomings of common experimental designs that greatly limit the interpretation of plant reintroduction studies:

  1. insufficient monitoring following reintroduction (usually ceasing after four years);
  2. inadequate documentation, which is especially acute for reintroductions that are regarded as failures;
  3. lack of understanding of the underlying reasons for decline in existing plant populations;
  4. overly optimistic evaluation of success based on short-term results;
  5. poorly defined success criteria for reintroduction projects.

Researchers therefore conclude that the value of plant reintroductions as a conservation tool could be improved by:

  1. an increased focus on species biology;
  2. using a higher number of transplants (preferring seedlings rather than seeds);
  3.  taking better account of seed production and recruitment when assessing the success of reintroductions; (4) a consistent long-term monitoring after reintroduction.

Source: Godefroid S., Piazza C., Rossi G., Buord S., Stevens A.D., Aguraiuja R., Cowell C., Weekley C.W., Vogg G., Iriondo J., Johnson I., Dixon B., Gordon D., Magnanon S., Valentin B., Bjureke K., Koopman R., Vicens M., Virevaire M., Vanderborght T. (2010). How successful are plant species reintroductions? Biological Conservation DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2010.10.003


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