Science & Environment

Conservationists choose their 12 trees of Christmas

Monkey puzzle tree (Image: Kirsty Shaw/BGCI) Image copyright BGCI
Image caption Fire, habitat loss and overgrazing are among the threats facing many of the world's conifer species

Conservationists are unveiling their 12 trees of Christmas, in a bid to highlight the plight facing some of the world's threatened conifers.

As decorated trees take centre-stage in many homes over the festive period, tree experts hope the campaign will raise awareness of at-risk species.

About one third of the world's species of conifers are deemed to be threatened with extinction unless action is taken.

The social media event is being run by the Global Trees Campaign.

On each of the 12 days until Christmas Eve on 24 December, the Global Trees Campaign - a partnership between Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) and Fauna and Flora International (FFI) - is publishing details of a threatened tree species on social media.

"Given that it is Christmas and everyone is bringing conifers into their houses, we thought that it was good to highlight some of the other conifer species that are not doing so well at the moment," explained Emily Beech, BGCI conservation assistant.

The development of the global trade in plants, and the demand over the centuries from wealthy families to plant exotic tree species on their land, means that 80% of the conifers listed as threatened are found in collections around the world.

However, these "ex situ" specimens are unlikely to be enough to ensure the long-term survival of these species.

"The problem is that a lot of the specimens that are in botanical gardens or are in people's back gardens do not have the genetic range; they are sourced from the same trees," Ms Beech told BBC News.

"As they do not have the genetic diversity, they cannot be reintroduced back into the wild. So if they disappear then there will be limited genetic resources to put them back again."

Improving the genetic diversity of conifer specimens and collections in botanical garden, as well as protecting populations of threatened species within their natural range, is part of the work being carried out by the Global Trees Campaign, said Ms Beech.

Image copyright Bedgebury National Pinetum
Image caption The Saharan cypress is among the longest lived trees on the planet, with some more than 2,000 years old, and are relics of a forest that covered part of the Saharan Desert, from a time when the region's climate was Mediterranean-like
Image copyright CPC Vietnam
Image caption The Chinese coffin tree's timber was highly sought after, particularly by coffin makers. However, the demand was unsustainable, resulting in the species facing an uncertain future
Image copyright FFI
Image caption The seeds from the Parana pine are an important food source in South America, and an estimated 3,400 tonnes are harvested every year. However, this has meant the species has struggled to regenerate naturally
Image copyright BGCI
Image caption Although a relatively common sight in UK gardens, the monkey puzzle tree is under threat in its native ranges in South America as a result of fire, land fragmentation and overgrazing by cattle
Image copyright FFI
Image caption For some unknown reason, male Ziyuan firs release pollen before the cones on female trees are receptive. In order to help maintain a viable wild population, scientists are trialling hand-pollination to see if this helps the species regenerate

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