MoU signing ceremony in 1991 [Image: KIB]

An international partnership between Scotland and China, forged to fight biodiversity loss, is celebrating its 30th anniversary.

For many decades, scientists from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the Kunming Institute of Botany (KIB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), have been working together to understand, record and conserve plant diversity, a relationship which was put on a formal footing by a twinning agreement in 1991.

Professor Pete Hollingsworth, Director of Science at RBGE said “At a time when the natural world is under extreme pressure and 40 percent of plant species are under threat, this kind of international collaboration has never been more important.”

“By combining the resources and expertise of both institutes, we have been able to achieve much more than would have been possible on our own, and I look forward to working ever more closely with colleagues in the years ahead.”

Professor Li Dezhu at KIB emphasized that “The twinning between KIB and RBGE has been a great success, from the updating of English and Chinese flora to the conservation of wild species in Southwest China and the Himalayas, as well as from staff exchanges to student training.

“As the primary producers of the ecosystems on Earth, plants are central to many nature-based solutions, particularly in the face of climate change. Working together we can provide more such solutions.”

RBGE’s relationship with China began in the early 20th century when iconic species such as rhododendrons were collected then grown back in Scotland. Now, RBGE’s collection of Chinese plants — reputedly the largest outside of China — attracts international researchers, including Chinese botanists, and demonstrates the amazing diversity of flora in the country.

Today, the collaboration with the Kunming Institute of Botany includes science, horticulture and education, and spans studies at scales ranging from studying biodiversity from space using satellite imagery to understanding biodiversity through the optics of DNA.

The Lijiang Alpine Botanic Garden and the Jade Dragon Field Station on Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (or Yulong Xueshan) in China’s Yunnan Province were opened 20 years ago in 2001 and designated as the UK and China’s first joint scientific laboratory in 2005. They provide a base from where horticulturists and scientists from Edinburgh and China can study the diverse flora of China.

Cutting-edge DNA-barcoding work, led by Professor Hollingsworth and Professor Li, is helping researchers to differentiate between plant species more accurately, the first step in recording and conserving species under threat of extinction.

Ground-breaking work carried out by RBGE’s Dr. Antje Ahrends and KIB’s Professor Xu Jianchu uses remote sensing and satellite technology to quantify and assess the rate of deforestation for the sake of rubber plantations and the success of afforestation programs.

A joint horticultural training program provides a rare opportunity for horticultural staff in both Edinburgh and Kunming to discuss and learn new skills from each other.

COP26, held in Glasgow in November 2021, focused global attention on the climate emergency. In April 2022, global attention will move to COP15 in Kunming and focus on the closely related and equally urgent challenge of the biodiversity crisis. The joint work of RBGE and KIB on biodiversity characterization and conservation is fully aligned to the aims of COP15, and joint events will celebrate the partnership and share biodiversity knowledge. They will include a planned conference and training course on the use of genetic technologies to understand biodiversity, and a workshop on biodiversity and environmental change to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Jade Dragon Field Station.

Source: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

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