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Xishuangbanna Botanic Garden and its research activities - Li Liming

Associate Professor, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden, Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan, China

Introduction

Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanic Garden (XTBG), under the administration of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' is located in Menglun Town of Mengla County, Yunnan Province and lies 21°41' North latitude, and 101°25' East longitude, with an elevation of 570 m, annual average temperature 21.7°C, and rainfall of 1500 mm. Surrounded by Luosuo River, a branch of Mekong River, the garden looks like a gourdshaped land area with a clear natural boundary extending to the east, covering an area of 900 ha. Xishuangbanna, where the garden is located is a Dai Autonomous Prefecture inhabited by more than ten minority nationalities that interact and influence the tropical rainforest ecosystems. Therefore, this region has favourable natural and social conditions for carrying out scientific research on the exploitation, utilization and conservation of tropical plant resources.

XTBG was established in 1959 under the leadership of Professor Cai Xitao, a famous botanist. In the past 39 years, XTBG has emphasized the exploitation, utilization and conservation of tropical plant resources, and carried out research on plant diversity conservation, ethnobotany, agroforestry, economic plant development etc. The garden includes different landscapes, such as some natural vegetation types, rainforest, tropical monsoon forest and south subtropical evergreen broad-leafed forest. Through almost 40 years, more than 3000 plant species have been collected and cultivated in about 20 living plant collections (plots), such as Palm Garden, Bamboo Garden, Shade Plants, Orchid Garden, Ethnobotanical and Cultural Garden, Arboretum and ex situ Conservation Collection of Rare and Endangered Plant species.

The Palm Garden is regarded as “the exhibition centre” of the botanic garden, 150 species of palms both local and exotic are cultivated in the 5 ha area.

The Bamboo Garden has an area of 6 ha and 136 species, subspecies and varieties of bamboos are planted in this garden. It is a base for collecting, conserving and studying the bamboo resources.

The Shade Plants and Orchid Garden is an one ha area with more than 400 species and varieties of tropical orchids and shade plants like ferns, gingers and aroids.

The Arboretum has an area of 10 ha and about 1200 species of woody plants introduced from China and abroad are planted. Besides, 23 species and varieties of rattans are also cultivated in this collection, using teak and others for support.

The Ex Situ Conservation Collection for Rare and Endangered Plants is part of the tropical rainforest. In the 90 ha area, there are about 2000 species and subspecies of tropical plants, 60 of them nationally protected species.

XTBG was affiliated to the Kunming Institute of Botany, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KIB-CAS). In 1996, the CAS decided that XTBG be separated from KIB, and it became an independent research institute, aimed at strengthening the research capability for biological resources, prospecting and biodiversity conservation in the southwest China. The Kunming Institute of Ecology (KIE-CAS) merged into this newly-established botanic garden. After the reorganization of the botanic garden, the research capability has been greatly enhanced.

At present, the garden has 207 well-trained scientists, among them, 50 hold the title of senior scientist. The training background of the scientists has also been diversified. This is advantageous to the multidisciplinary interactions among scientists. The experimental conditions have been improved, thus favouring the integration of field observations and laboratory work. For this reason, under the approval of CAS, XTBG has revised its research tasks with emphasis on Yunnan Province, southwest China and Southeast Asia, and biological communities, species, carrying out research on biodiversity conservation and sustainable utilization, so as to make new contributions to the sustainable development of various useful plants.

Facilities for scientific research

The XTBG is headquartered in Xishuangbanna, with a branch section in Kunming, capital city of Yunnan Province. Two field stations, the Xishuangbanna Tropical Rainforest Ecosystem Research Station and the Ailaoshan Subtropical Forest Ecosystem Research Station are also under the direct leadership of the garden. A training centre for the demonstration of rural development has been established in Oudomxay Province. At present, XTBG has set up five research departments: Forest Ecology, Agroforestry, Dept. of Horticulture, Endangered Plants Ex Situ Conservation and a Biodiversity Research centre (which is jointly managed by CAS and Government of Yunnan Province).

In addition to the abovementioned field stations, XTBG has excellent experimental facilities for conducting scientific research on field biology, agroecology and agroforestry. It has facilities for cultivation of various cash crops to conduct experiments and demonstration of different models of agroforestry systems, field trials, and reintroduction of endangered plants. Well-equipped laboratories and other facilities are also available for carrying out scientific research, such as herbarium, biogeochemical laboratory, phytoecological and physiological laboratory, genebank for endangered plants and laboratory for biodiversity information systems.

Activities and facilities for scientific education

XTBG harbours diverse tropical plants, beautiful natural landscapes, and a large area of forest vegetation. In recent years, scientists have published many new findings on “buttress phenomenon”, “cauliflory” and “strangling phenomenon”. Studies are also designed to understand the relationship between tropical rainforest and mankind. Our knowledge on ethnobotanical cultures including local medicinal plants, wild fruits, vegetables, ethnic Buddhism and plant diversity management has been broadened. Moreover, a group engaging in scientific education was specially set up for the dissemination of scientific knowledge through landscape design, illustration of pamphlets and languages, and other visual and video means. XTBG receives about 400 000 visitors both from China and abroad every year, including some important persons from political circles, some members from imperial families and famous scientists both from China and abroad. Therefore, XTBG was selected as a National Scenic Spot in 1991, and was selected as a base for scientific education by the Yunnan provincial government in 1996.

In order to spread scientific knowledge and methods of sustainable development, XTBG has decided to reconstruct and improve the facilities for scientific education, including addition of plant species, transformation and perfection of ethnic botanical garden; establishment of Tropical Rainforest Landscape, Museum for Tropical rainforest and Ethnobotanical Cultures; the improvement of a service centre for tourists, as well as the compilation and publication of pamphlets and video shows. Demonstration and training in practical techniques to farmers of rural areas are carried out. Related activities include: organizing the local Dai, Hani minority people and Lao minority people from Laos to visit the new economic crops and the agroforestry models in the botanic garden; conducting training courses on practical methods of plant cutting, grafting, sowing, raising seedlings and cultivating new economic crops etc; organizing the Dai minority farmers from Xishuangbanna and northern Laos to visit each other, so that they can share their knowledge through communications, which has promoted the two transnational villages to be sister villages. These activities were carried out under the support of the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation of USA, and have greatly promoted the sustainable development of rural areas.

International cooperation and communication

XTBG has built up close relationships with many botanic gardens, universities, research institutions and foundations in the world on seed exchange, scientific information exchange, research project cooperation and personnel training. For instance, close connection was established with Atagawa Tropical Botanic Garden of Japan, Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden of Thailand, Singapore Botanic Garden, and Kew Royal Botanic Garden of England, etc. The MacArthur Foundation and Ford Foundation of USA have given great support to XTBG's research work. XTBG has also accepted some postgraduate students from USA, UK, France, and Germany, who came to China to conduct ethnobotanical studies.

The biodiversity research centre is to be established in collaboration with some of the laboratories in the biological research institutions of CAS in Yunnan, as well as some universities and research institutions of Yunnan Province. These institutions and universities have facilities for conducting research on genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity. The research centre will be opened to scientists from China and abroad, especially Southeast Asia, so as to make joint contributions to the sustainable development of biodiversity conservation in the tropics. The Dept. of Endangered Plants Ex Situ Conservation owns a big area of field genebank (90 ha), a seed bank for the preservation of seeds and micropropagules, well-equipped ecophysiological laboratory and a tropical plant herbarium. This department is also being built up as a laboratory open to scientists from both China and abroad.

XTBG is also establishing an information centre for the ex situ conservation of plants and plant specimens, and a laboratory for biodiversity information system based in Yunnan, so as to gradually accede to the national and international network systems and communicate and share information.

It has been almost 40 years since the establishment of XTBG. Now, it is recognized as a research institution incorporating scientific research, plant germplasm preservation, scientific education, well known both in China and abroad. Southern Yunnan, where XTBG is located, is a part of east Himalaya and southeast Asian continent. They are key regions of biodiversity, and have attracted international attention. Consequently, through wide-ranging internal and international cooperation and communication, XTBG will grow both in scope and facilities, that has strong local distinguishing features, and, undoubtedly, will make great contribution to conservation biology.


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