CITES is the primary international legislation that deals with the conservation of plants and animals; it now has over 130 member countries. CITES regulates trade in threatened wild species, placing them in one of three appendices. Those species listed in Appendix I (Table 8.3) are considered to be at serious risk due to international trade; thus, trade in these organisms between signatory countries is banned. Appendix II lists those species that may be threatened by excessive amounts of trade, but for which trade is permitted with appropriate licenses, monitoring, and certain controls; all cacti not in Appendix I are listed in Appendix II. Appendix III is used by countries that want to control trade in certain plant or animal species that are not currently in either of the other appendices. CITES appendices are amended by agreement of member countries at the biennial Conference of the Parties, which usually follows the consideration of detailed proposals that have been submitted by one or more members. Thus, changes to the listings in the appendices do occur, though the process is cumbersome. For example, Leuchtenbergia principis was originally listed in Appendix I, but because research showed that clearly it was not threatened with immediate extinction, it was transferred to Appendix II. Some cacti presently listed in Appendix I may not be as severely threatened as some that are not on the list, but only detailed research and extensive paperwork can make these changes.
CITES is implemented through laws and administrative procedures of member countries, as the actual Convention provides only the framework for implementation. International cooperation between member countries is essential. Each country has Scientific and Management Authorities that are responsible for implementing the Convention. In the United States, for example, these authorities are within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Standardized implementation of CITES and national regulations, especially among plants, is spotty at best. Bureaucratic red tape and regulations can inhibit the effective implementation of the CITES regulations. For instance, artificially propagated CITES plants are regulated by massive amounts of regulation and heavy financial burdens on the growers. Also, CITES was established to regulate the trade of threatened plants and animals, but legislative restrictions have created bureaucracies for legitimate scientific research. Researchers at the Desert Botanical Garden received the appropriate collecting and export permits to do field work in Peru and to collect a specific number of research specimens, but someone mistakenly reduced the number of plants that could be exported. Upon the arrival of the shipment into the United States, the inspector confiscated the "extra" plants. Although the export permit was eventually corrected by Peruvian authorities, U.S. authorities would not accept the corrected forms because they were on the wrong letterhead. The collection data were not allowed to accompany the confiscated plants, so their scientific value was lost.
Distinctions should be made between scientists doing research on cacti and those trading in these plants. Of course, scientists, like everyone else, are subject to the laws of whatever country in which they are working. Indeed, CITES has made some provision for facilitating research, as institutions may apply for permits and register with the
CITES Secretariat as Institutions for Scientific Exchange. These permits authorize the non-commercial shipment of legally acquired specimens between registered institutions. The system can work well, but unfortunately some countries have few, if any, registered scientific institutions. Research is a critically important part of plant conservation, for rare plants must be understood so they may be appropriately protected, and cumbersome regulations and permit procedures can frustrate this endeavor.
In 1992, 153 countries signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, with the objectives being "the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources" (Oldfield 1997). One of the most important aspects of this Convention is that member countries are required to identify those components of biological diversity important for both conservation and sustainable use. The Convention also requires the establishment of protected areas and the passing of appropriate legislation to protect those organisms found to be threatened. This Convention certainly contains appropriate elements for assisting conservation groups and agencies in implementing programs to protect threatened organisms, including cacti, and by helping them identify threatened species and developing measures to protect them.
Even with agreement that threatened organisms need to be conserved and programs need to be developed to ensure their perpetuation, the ideal solutions may not be attainable. Two different approaches to the conservation of organisms are in situ and ex situ conservation. In situ conservation is simply protecting wild plants and animals in their natural habitats. Clearly, this is the best insurance that rare and threatened species will have a long-term chance of survival. Usually in situ conservation involves setting aside areas and establishing legal protections, such as those found in nature preserves, national parks, and protected private lands. It may also include habitat restoration and even the reintroduction of organisms. The U.S. Endangered Species Act provides protection for certain "critical habitats" defined as being essential for the long-term conservation of the threatened or rare species, including cacti. Ex situ conservation is a second level of protecting rare and endangered plants away from their natural habitats.
State and national parks, preserves, and monuments are significant regions in which threatened cacti can be protected. Three national parks or preserves in the western
United States have significant numbers of cacti: Joshua Tree National Park in California; Mojave Natural Preserve Desert, also in California (Fig. 8.5); and Big Bend National Park in Texas. Arizona has two national monuments specifically set aside to protect cacti: Saguaro National Monument and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. A significant conservation effort in South America is Pan de Azúcar National Park in Chile, in which important cacti of the Atacama Desert are protected. Although the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador are commonly thought of as having unusual animals, the Archipelago also has many remarkable species of plants, including cacti, that are protected through its status as a national park (Fig. 8.6). Mexico has established several preserves for the protection of cacti: Pinacate Reserve in Sonora, Mapimí Nature Reserve in Chihuahua, Cañon de Huasteco in Nuevo León, Parque Internacional del Río Bravo also in Nuevo León, and Isla Cedros Sanctuary in Baja California.
Private owners of land containing threatened cacti may also knowingly or unknowingly protect the native plants by prohibiting access. The Trans Pecos Heritage Associ ation in west Texas has no conservation agenda in prohibiting access to its vast ranches; it simply does not want trespassers of any kind on its properties. Some of these ranches have populations of rare cacti, such as Echinocereus viridiflorus subsp. davisii, which are protected from collectors by the trespassing regulations. On the other hand, researchers are often prohibited from studying the plants as well. The Nature Conservancy consciously purchases tracts of land for the protection of wild species, and often this land remains in private ownership.
Despite national and local efforts to set aside critical habitats containing rare or threatened species, some people will still trespass and illegally remove plants, such as cacti, and thus adversely affect the long-term future of the populations. Both Saguaro National Monument and Big Bend National Park have suffered losses in their cacti populations from illegal activities.
Ex situ conservation is the cultivating of rare and threatened plants "away from danger" in botanic gardens and other places that are not the natural habitats of the plants involved. This type of conservation is clearly not as
effective as the in situ conservation of wild populations, but the latter may be impossible because of habitat fragmentation and destruction, political pressures against conservation, legal prohibitions, bureaucratic obstacles, overcol-lection, and inaccessibility because of private ownership. Thus, ex situ conservation may be the only viable alternative in protecting and perpetuating a threatened plant. Effective ex situ conservation requires careful documentation, the propagation of sufficient numbers of individuals to ensure some degree of genetic diversity, and the prevention of diseases. Botanic gardens, such as the Desert Botanical Garden (Phoenix, Arizona), the Huntington Botanical Garden (San Marino, California), the Jardín Botanico del Instituto de Biologia de Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City, the Exotic Garden of Monaco, and the Zürich Succulent Collection in Switzerland are examples of gardens emphasizing the collection and growing of cacti. Other examples of ex situ conservation of cacti are private collections and some commercial nurseries. An example of the former is the Jardín Botanico Tropical "Pinya de Rosa" near
Barcelona, Spain, which was founded by Fernando Riviere de Caralt and is now operated by his family. Steven Brack's Mesa Garden in Belen, New Mexico, is an excellent example of a commercial business that propagates and sells documented materials obtained from legally collected stock plants. These plants provide additional specimens for both hobbyists and botanic gardens. Seed banks are also important in ex situ plant conservation, but few contain more than just a small fraction of cactus species. The exception is the seed collection of the Desert Botanical Garden, which has seeds of several hundred cactus species.
Although cacti inhabit a wide diversity of climatic regions and ecosystems throughout the New World, approximately half of all known species of cacti occur in four geographical regions, or centers of diversity. Among the four centers of diversity, the geographical region comprising Mexico and the southwestern United States contains the greatest concentration of species and the most endemic genera. In this regard, cacti have been the subjects of few allozyme surveys, and therefore relatively little information is available on the extent and distribution of biodiversity within individual species. Strategies for the conservation of rare or threatened cacti would be aided by more information on the extent of genetic variation within their populations. Kay and John (1996) have recommended studies of each rare or threatened species to discern the extent and distribution of genetic diversity. Their rationale for the recommendation was that inferences from presumably similar ecological situations appear to be inapplicable. This would be impractical for all rare or threatened cacti because of time and cost constraints. Gray (1996) reviewed the literature on genetic diversity in natural plant populations and concluded that genetic diversity in most plant species extends along the axis of habitat variability. Based on this finding, Gray (1996) proposed that, in the absence any genetic diversity data, as many populations as feasible across the species' entire geographic range should be conserved, protected in situ, or sampled for ex situ collections.
The amount of genetic diversity within a plant species is ultimately limited by the effective size of the populations. Wild species lose genetic diversity due to reductions in effective population size or population fragmentation. How reduced genetic diversity actually affects populations of wild cacti is not known and requires study. With regard to cultivated cacti, information on the genetic diversity of Hatiora and Schlumbergera is available but less is known about biodiversity of other economically important cacti. Efforts should therefore be made to estimate the genetic variation present in germplasm collections of other cultivated cacti. The economically important cacti and their wild relatives should receive a high priority for conservation efforts. Germplasm of cultivated cacti and their near relatives should be collected and preserved ex situ. Seeds should be collected from several populations throughout the species' natural ranges. Further work may be needed to devise protocols for the long-term storage of seeds, pollen, and vegetative material.
The present is a critical period with regard to the future of cactus conservation, and the outlook is grim. It will be impossible to halt—or even slow down—habitat destruction as long as the human population grows at its current rate, especially in Latin America. Urban areas will expand and marginal land will be converted to farmland. Illegal collecting will continue. Hopefully, the efforts of national societies and the International Organization for Succulent Plant Study (IOS) to educate its members—and the public as a whole—may gradually produce a better understanding of the need for cactus conservation. Some national cactus and succulent organizations have already done a great service to conservation in prohibiting the entering of field-collected plants in sanctioned shows and competitions. Several commercial nurseries are also providing excellent plants for hobbyists.
CITES and the implementation of its regulations has been and will continue to be effective in controlling trade and its impact on wild populations, but excessive bureaucracy will frustrate and discourage many people from cooperating fully. Hopefully, CITES and the many governmental agencies concerned with conservation will streamline their permitting procedures. A number of projects were proposed in the Cactus and Succulent Action Plan (Oldfield 1997). Funding is necessary for extensive field work and monitoring so that the rare and threatened cacti may be better understood. More knowledge will enable researchers and others to manage and protect wild populations for the foreseeable future. Cacti are amazing plants and extensive conservation efforts are certainly justified. Cooperative effort among researchers, conservationists, and hobbyists is required to ensure that wild populations of cacti will continue to exist.
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