The often bizarre growth-forms and attractive flowers of cacti and other succulents have promoted widespread interest in this group of plants and horticultural popularity worldwide. Succulcnt plants are also of great ecological and economic significance, particularly in arid and semi-arid parts of the world. Although the definition of succulence as applied to plants is constantly under debate, about 10,000 plant species are generally recognised as succulent, within thirty plant families.
Of these succulent plant species, an estimated 2000 species are threatened with global extinction in the wild, and many more are regionally or nationally threatened. Habitat destruction is the major threat, and in common with other horticulturally desirable plant groups, over-collection for international trade remains a significant problem. The Cactus and Succulent Plants Action Plan, produced by members of the Species Survival Commission of IUCN-The World Conservation Union, brings together current information, never before compiled, on the population status, threats, and conservation of this group of important plants from around the world. From this compilation, priorities for conservation action are emphasised, providing direction for funding in plant conservation work. Conservationists, scientists, government officials, protected area managers, educators, and grant awarding bodies alike should find this document helpful in their work to conserve global and local flora. The contributors to this Action Plan encourage collaborative work among these interested parties.
The publication comprises four chapters and a series of annexes that provide readers with concise information on the current status of cactus and succulcnt populations. The extensive bibliography provides a comprehensive resource for more information on this group of plants. The Plan begins with overviews, written by botanists who specialise in the study of these particular plant families, of the distribution, diversity, threats, and status of eight main taxonomic groups of succulents including the Agavaceae, Aizoaceae, Aloaceae, Asclepiadaceae, Cactaceac, Crassulaceae, Euphorbiaceae, and Portulacaceae. Some of these groups arc of great economic importance, many in the ornamental trade industry, and others, such as the Agavaceae, in the fibre and food industries.
Chapter 2 of the Action Plan describes and reviews existing conservation measures for succulent plants around the world with information on legislation, controlling the trade, and in situ and ex situ conservation. The intention of this chapter is to identify successful conservation activities which can be used as models elsewhere, and also to highlight priorities for further action. It is particularly important in reviewing international conservation measures to show how succulent plant conservation needs can be linked into broader initiatives and frameworks for biodiversity conservation.
Action for succulent plant conservation must take place primarily at the national and local levels and be implemented as far as possible by in-country agencies and local experts. This is accepted throughout the Action Plan, and Chapter 3, the regional accounts, has been largely prepared by experts within the regions concerned. Chapter 3 concentrates on the regions of the world which have the major concentrations of succulent plants.
The final chapter of the Plan describes the priority conservation action proposals, developed by the members of the SSC Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group, for succulent plants around the world. Implementing these proposals will save the maximum diversity of succulents based on our present knowledge.
The SSC Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group calls for:
• Field research to support understanding of the taxonomy and conservation status of succulent plants,
• Increased in situ protection for succulent plant species through the development of protected area networks,
• Coordinated ex situ protection of threatened succulent species to support the conservation of species in their natural habitats wherever possible,
• Effective national legislation for all threatened succulent plant species,
• Effective trade controls for all wild succulent plant spccics threatened by exploitation for international commerce,
• Education on the value of succulent plants and the need for their conservation and sustainable use.
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