Ex-situ Conservation

Ex-situ conservation is the cultivation and propagation of plant species outside of their natural habitat. This measure is to be adopted when the numbers of a species have declined so massively that individuals need to be rescued and given refuge elsewhere. When habitat collapse becomes imminent, or when population collapse starts to happen with widespread habitat destruction (or, as the current scenario unfolds, with climate change), ex-situ conservation can indeed save species from immediate extinction. It is vital to understand that ex-situ conservation is not a substitute for in-situ conservation (the protection of habitat, and species within their natural habitat). The two measures are complementary with the protection of natural habitat being primary.

The Sanctuary's conservation staff practices a mix of ex-situ and in-situ conservation. Furthermore, we nurture degraded areas to conditions of health by harnessing the restorative powers of natural succession and combining this with species rehabilitation

Effective ex-situ plant conservation requires a close knowledge of individual plant species, as well as intimacy with the myriad complex environments they come from. To grow plants well at the Sanctuary we need to be very familiar with their biology and ecology.

The Sanctuary is refuge to some 2,000 plant species, more than a third of the region's flora. Most of these plants have been rescued from degraded and destroyed environments. They range from mosses, ferns, orchids, balsams, begonias and other herbaceous groups to climbers, tubers, creepers, shrubs and trees. Painstakingly, over years the Sanctuary gardeners have discovered ways to grow them.

Every plant has a role to play in regenerating the ecosystem. We focus on the native plants of the Western Ghats (including mosses and liverworts, ferns, acanths, orchids, begonias and impatiens) for several reasons:

In our ex-situ programme we propagate horticulturally challenged (largely herbaceous) plants that occupy highly specialized niches in the wild. These species are not just confined to nursery areas, but occur in regenerating populations (sometimes of several thousand individuals) in outplanted habitats along with hundreds of other species that grow without assistance. Our success is due to an understanding of the complexity of the problem and of the diversity of techniques required, including detailed long-term observation, taxonomic expertise, sound horticultural practice, rigorous experimentation and excellent team work. The Sanctuary gardeners, like gardeners elsewhere, are multi-taskers and interdisciplinary in their approach. We have developed a broad knowledge base of over 100 plant families spanning ecology, biogeography, taxonomy, plant pathology and horticultural disciplines. The plant database, maintained since 1981, has taxonomic, biogeographic, ecological and horticultural data for every species, accession and ecotype. It is an up-to-date groundtruthed statement on the status and distribution of 2,000 plant species.