Coming together to protect the wild ancestors of our beloved tulips
26th May 2021
“The success we have seen in our project goes to show that when we cooperate across disciplines, borders, and cultures, we can make a significant impact in the fight to save biodiversity.”
Tulips are primarily associated with the Netherlands nonetheless remain one of the most popular garden flowers worldwide. Surprisingly, these plants only entered Europe in the 16th century imported from Ottoman and Persian gardens and wild tulips are originally believed to have originated in Central Asia, with many species moved by travellers along the Silk Road. Today, Central Asia remains the key region for wild tulip diversity with over 50% of all known species growing in and around the steppe grassland and mountains of this area. This amazing diversity is relatively poorly understood due to the plant’s complex horticultural history, the geo-political history of Central Asia, and lack of focused research. Still, local conservationists recognise that wild tulip diversity in the region is under threat and many populations are declining.
One such group of conservationists are those based at Fauna & Flora International (FFI). FFI is an international conservation NGO, that across their many projects, aims to protect all forms of diversity which often means wildlife in areas of the world that many other organisations overlook. They recognised the need for conservation efforts to protect wild tulips and identified that more research was needed to untangle species concepts, to understand the extent of threats, and to aid in identifying conservation priorities. Here, expertise was provided by Cambridge University Botanic Garden (CUBG), which has researchers with extensive scientific know-how and also holds a ‘National Collection of Tulips’. This was an ideal opportunity for collaboration with both organisations based in Cambridge and both part of Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI). Together they obtained a Darwin Initiative grant to support their work in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia.
Who am I and how do I fit into this? Well, my name is Brett Wilson, and I am a PhD researcher within this project, leading the Science efforts, but also supported by FFI, who part fund me, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. I also work alongside Central Asian researchers and conservationists to develop an informed and up to date understanding of wild tulip diversity. Working with a range of teams and organisations can often be tricky, with each having its own particular interest in the project, which needs to be placed in the broader picture. Yet, we have already managed to record and sample populations of nearly all species known from Central Asia, published research that shows climate change will be a big threat to these plants. Along the way we have detected several potentially new species. The success we have seen in our project goes to show that when we cooperate across disciplines, borders, and cultures, we can make a significant impact in the fight to save biodiversity.
Read more about Brett’s work here:
University of Cambridge
“The success we have seen in our project goes to show that when we cooperate across disciplines, borders, and cultures,…