skip to main content

Title: The growing and vital role of botanical gardens in climate change research

Botanical gardens make unique contributions to climate change research, conservation, and public engagement. They host unique resources, including diverse collections of plant species growing in natural conditions, historical records, and expert staff, and attract large numbers of visitors and volunteers. Networks of botanical gardens spanning biomes and continents can expand the value of these resources. Over the past decade, research at botanical gardens has advanced our understanding of climate change impacts on plant phenology, physiology, anatomy, and conservation. For example, researchers have utilized botanical garden networks to assess anatomical and functional traits associated with phenological responses to climate change. New methods have enhanced the pace and impact of this research, including phylogenetic and comparative methods, and online databases of herbarium specimens and photographs that allow studies to expand geographically, temporally, and taxonomically in scope. Botanical gardens have grown their community and citizen science programs, informing the public about climate change and monitoring plants more intensively than is possible with garden staff alone. Despite these advances, botanical gardens are still underutilized in climate change research. To address this, we review recent progress and describe promising future directions for research and public engagement at botanical gardens.

 ;  ;  ;  
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
New Phytologist
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
p. 917-932
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Societal Impact Statement

    Humans are dependent upon plants for oxygen, food, textiles, and medicines. Climate change and deforestation represent serious threats to our planet, causing significant disruptions to our ability to access and utilize these plant resources; this makes a botanically literate workforce and plant science careers more important than ever. Unfortunately, the current state of botanical career opportunities and training programs in the United States remains unclear. This study focuses on the current employment trends of government and private sector botanists and what skills future plant scientists will need to be successful in these careers.


    Plant science plays a crucial role in our society and in ongoing efforts to address many global challenges, including food insecurity and climate change. Yet, despite a predicted increase in plant science career opportunities in the United States, the botanical career landscape outside of academia is not well understood.

    To further our understanding of the training required for non‐academic botanical careers, the botanical sub‐disciplines used on the job, and career challenges faced by plant scientists, we surveyed 61 scientists working in government and 59 scientists working in the private sector in the United States.

    In both career sectors, > 80% of survey participants reported recent hiresmore »at the bachelor's degree level. New personnel with master's degrees were more commonly reported in the government sector (95%) than in the private sector (69%). Most plant scientists working in government reported a focus on plant ecology and resource management. By contrast, most industry/non‐profit work involved horticulture and biotechnology, with some specific skills spanning both sectors. Notably, one prediction made nearly a decade ago appears to be manifesting: plant scientists seem to be retiring more quickly than they are being replaced. Survey respondents reported that attempts to hire full‐time staff are met with obstacles, including insufficient funding. Plant science professionals in both career sectors emphasized their routine use of botanical skills developed as students, highlighting the need for effective training at the undergraduate level.

    We discuss the implications of these findings and present several recommendations for preparing future generations of plant scientists and increasing the scientific community's botanical capacity.

    « less
  2. Societal Impact Statement

    Botanical careers are more important than ever, given that environmental challenges such as climate change and deforestation threaten plants daily and because plants contribute to solutions to these problems. Plants act as our sources of food, medicine, textiles, and oxygen, which means finding ways to mitigate these environmental challenges is crucial. Despite this, little is known about what career opportunities exist for botanists outside of academia and how well academia is training graduate students for these careers. This study centers on the current state of academic botanical careers and how well students completing post‐baccalaureate degrees (herein referred to as graduate students) are being prepared to fill careers within the botanical workforce.


    Plant science plays a crucial role in our society and in ongoing efforts to address many global challenges, including food insecurity and climate change. Despite a predicted increase in botanical career opportunities, little is known about how well academia is training graduate students for careers outside of academia.

    To further our understanding of the current state of academic training for botanical careers, we surveyed 85 faculty and 40 graduate students working in academia in the plant sciences in the United States.

    We found that the top challenges tomore »university professors in academia are lack of support staff and funding, whereas students completing their post‐baccalaureate degrees cited finances and lack of supportive mentoring as their top challenges. Despite the fact that most graduate students surveyed wanted a career at a research‐intensive university, many botanists in academia are retiring without being replaced by more botanists. Faculty expertise is also misaligned with needs from industry and government employers, causing challenges to training graduate students for these careers outside of academia. Although our data point to a lack of career opportunities within academia, we also note that current graduate student education still emphasizes such careers and is not properly preparing graduate students for the careers they are more likely to obtain within the private and government sectors.

    We discuss the implications of these findings and present several recommendations for preparing future generations of plant scientists for more realistic career trajectories.

    « less
  3. Elmer Ottis Wooton (1865–1945) was one of the most important early botanists to work in the Southwestern United States, contributing a great deal of natural history knowledge and botanical research on the flora of New Mexico that shaped many naturalists and scientists for generations. The extensive Wooton legacy includes herbarium collections that he and his famous student Paul Carpenter Standley (1884–1963), prolific botanist and explorer, used for the first Flora of New Mexi co by Wooten and Standley 1915 , along with resources covering botany and range management strategies for the northern Chihuahuan Desert, and an extensive, yet to be digitized, historical archive of correspondence, field notes, vegetation sketches, photographs, and lantern slides, all from his travels and field work in the region. Starting in 1890, the most complete set of Wooton’s herbarium collections were deposited in the NMC herbarium at New Mexico State University (NMSU), and his archives, now stored in a Campus library, have together been underutilized, offline resources. The goals of this ongoing project are to secure, preserve, and promote Wooton’s important historical resources, by fleshing out the botanical history of the region, raising appreciation of herbarium collections within the community, and emphasizing their unique role inmore »facilitating contemporary research aimed at addressing pressing scientific questions such as vegetation responses to global climate change. Students and the general public involved in this project are engaged through hands-on activities including cataloging, databasing and digitization of nearly 10,000 herbarium specimens and Wooton’s archives. These outputs, combined with contemporary data collection and computational biology techniques from an ecological perspective, are being used to document vegetation changes in iconic, climate-sensitive, high-elevation mountainous ecosystems present in southwestern New Mexico. In a later phase of the project, a variety of public audiences will participate through interactive online story maps and citizen science programs such as iNaturalist , Notes from Nature , and BioBlitz . Images of herbarium specimens will be shared via an online database and other relevant biodiversity portals ( Symbiota , iDigBio , JStor ) Community members reached through this project will be better-informed citizens, who may go on to become new stewards of natural history collections, with the potential to influence policies safeguarding the future of our planet’s biodiversity. More locally, the project will support the management of Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument, which was established in 2014 to protect the area's human and environmental resources, and for which knowledge and data are currently limited.« less
  4. Global insect pollinator declines have prompted habitat restoration efforts, including pollinator-friendly gardening. Gardens can provide nectar and pollen for adult insects and offer reproductive resources, such as nesting sites and caterpillar host plants. We conducted a review and meta-analysis to examine how decisions made by gardeners on plant selection and garden maintenance influence pollinator survival, abundance, and diversity. We also considered characteristics of surrounding landscapes and the impacts of pollinator natural enemies. Our results indicated that pollinators responded positively to high plant species diversity, woody vegetation, garden size, and sun exposure and negatively to the separation of garden habitats from natural sites. Within-garden features more strongly influenced pollinators than surrounding landscape factors. Growing interest in gardening for pollinators highlights the need to better understand how gardens contribute to pollinator conservation and how some garden characteristics can enhance the attractiveness and usefulness of gardens to pollinators. Further studies examining pollinator reproduction, resource acquisition, and natural enemies in gardens and comparing gardens with other restoration efforts and to natural habitats are needed to increase the value of human-made habitats for pollinators.
  5. Abstract

    In the face of global pressures of change and biodiversity loss, crop wild relatives (CWR) and wild‐utilized species (WUS) urgently require conservation attention. To advance conservation, we assembled a national inventory of CWR and WUS in Canada. To assess current ex situ conservation of these plant species, we gathered a virtual metacollection of accession data from botanical gardens and national genebanks. The inventory includes 779 CWR and WUS taxa (658 distinct species), with 263 (222 distinct species) that are related to food crops of national and global importance such as blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosumL.), apple (Malus domestica(Suckow) Borkh.), sunflower (Helianthus annuusL.), and saskatoon (Amelanchierspp.). Sixty‐one food crop relatives are prioritized for breeding potential, and sixteen due to conservation threats. Although most food crop CWR are represented in ex situ collections (91% of species), representation of within‐species diversity is low (median = 5% of Canadian ecogeographic types represented per species). Poor representation of within‐species diversity demands an integrative conservation strategy that emphasizes in situ protection, especially focusing on wild populations in Canada's southern ecoregions where diversity is concentrated. While genebank collections represent higher accession counts per species, botanical gardens include living collections of fruit crop relatives and other woody perennials that are wellmore »situated to raise broader awareness of CWR and WUS. To promote further conservation action, we present a web application that enables conservation planners and practitioners to identify local CWR and WUS and to identify within‐species ecogeographic types that are underrepresented in ex situ conservation systems.

    « less