GSPC Target 8

Objective I: Plant diversity is well understood, documented and recognized

Objective II: Plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved

Objective III: Plant diversity is used in a sustainable and equitable manner

Objective IV: Education and awareness about plant diversity, its role in sustainable livelihoods and importance to all life on earth is promoted

Objective V: The capacities and public engagement necessary to implement the Strategy have been developed


Ex situ plant conservation is defined as the conservation of plant diversity outside its natural habitat.

Ex situ conservation plays a complementary role to in situ conservation, providing a 'safety back-up' and an insurance policy against extinction in the wild.

While in the past, more emphasis was placed on in situ conservation as the primary means of conservation; ex situ conservation, in the form of seed banks, in vitro collections, field genebanks and the living collections of botanic gardens, has proliferated in recent years.

Given the fact that ecosystems are already rapidly and demonstrably shifting as individual species react differently to climate change, ex situ conservation is assuming a new and important role in conservation strategies. 

Quoting from BGCI's publication: Plants and climate change: which future?  - "In the face of an uncertain future, an urgent priority must be given to conservation through seed-banking and living collections for as many plant species as possible, by way of an insurance policy".

Botanic gardens are the main institutions involved in the ex situ conservation of wild plant diversity. The number of botanic gardens in existence around the world has more than doubled in recent years and their combined plant collections consist of more than 100,000 species, nearly one third of all known plants, including many threatened species. Many botanic gardens are involved in the implementation of this target, with organisations such as the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, playing a key role.

A review of the role of botanic gardens in the implementation of this Target can be downloaded here.

Download an introduction to Target 8 here.

Learn more

The focus for this target is to ensure that genetically representative collections of the most critically threatened species are developed. The collections should be accessible, backed-up and preferably in the country of origin. There is also a need to ensure that material is available for use in restoration and recovery programmes to ensure that the second part of the target is met.

There are various forms of ex situ conservation:

Seed conservation

Seed conservation is useful for plants with 'normal' seeds that can be dried and stored at low temperatures for long periods. This is the most cost efficient and common form of ex situ conservation. A large number of seeds can be stored in a small space and good sampling techniques will ensure that the genetic diversity of any given plant population is represented in the seed sample.

In vitro conservation

In vitro conservation includes plant tissue culture and cryopreservation. In these types of conservation, small parts of the plant (typically growing points or meristems) are removed from the plant and conserved in artificial media in sterile conditions at low temperatures (very low in the case of cryopreservation). These techniques are useful for plants whose seeds are 'recalcitrant' or cannot be dried and stored at low temperatures (as is the case for many tropical tree species). In vitro techniques are more expensive than seed conservation and require a higher level of skills to implement. However, they also allow large number of plants to be stored in a small space.

Field genebanks

Field genebanks are more commonly used for maintaining the genetic diversity of agricultural crops that cannot be stored as seeds (see Target 9). They are less common for the conservation of wild plant species.

Living collections of botanic gardens 

The living collections of botanic gardens include a large number of threatened wild plant species. However, while the number of species represented in such collections is high, the genetic diversity that is present in the wild populations of these species is often not well represented in botanic garden collections. Nevertheless, species held in well-documented, genetically representative living collections are valuable for ex situ conservation as well as having additional value, in that they provide material for:

  • Horticulture and field-based research (propagation methods, growth requirements etc).  

  • Propagation of plants to remove or reduce pressure from wild harvesting.

  • Taxonomic and systematic research and reference for identification.

  • Display, education and community engagement activities.

  • Species reintroduction and habitat restoration activities.

  • Identification of taxa for introduction into the nursery trade, local agriculture and crop breeding programmes, amenity planting, local forestry etc.

Recovery and Restoration

The second part of Target 8 focuses on the use of ex situ collections to support species recovery and ecosystem restoration initiatives. Further information on the implementation of such projects is available here.


The implementation of this target contributes to Targets 12 and 15 of the Aichi targets of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020:

T12: By 2020, the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.

T15: By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.


A number of guidelines, manuals, case studies and on-line resources are available to support implementation of this target. many of these can be accessed through the Seed Conservation Hub of the Global Seed Conservation Challenge

The target consists of two main areas of activity. Ex situ conservation of threatened species and the use of conserved materials to support species reintroduction programmes and the restoration of damaged habitats.

Further information on the implementation of ex situ conservation is available here.

Further information on the implementation of recovery and restoration programmes is available here.

Tools and resources

Please also check in the database of Tools of Resources for Case Studies relevant to this target.

A Handbook for Botanic Gardens on the Reintroduction of Plants to the Wild (6933KB)

This booklet explores the issues and challenges facing those involved in plant reintroductions. It provides guidance and advice for on-the-ground action. 


Assets and liabilities : the role of evaluation in the curation of living collections

This paper outlines the necessity for evaluation and suggests tried and tested procedures to conduct such analyses. Examples from evaluations carried out at the Royal Botanic Garden, Jordan and the National Botanic Garden of Belgium (NBGB) are cited to illustrate the value of the process 


Building living collections to support conservation

This guide features work done by the Montgomery Botanical Center, including genetic evaluation of the Sinkhole Cycad. The guide is designed to provide a general blueprint to help strategically develop conservation collections in botanic gardens 


Collections management (142KB)

This chapter form BGCI's Darwin Technical Manual provides guidance on how to manage a botanic garden plant collection. 


ENSCONET Collecting manual

This document, also available in French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, provides guidelines on collecting seed of wild plant species for conservation projects. 


ENSCONET Curation protocols and recommendations

This document, also available in French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish, provides recommendations for the curation of a seed bank for wild plants. 


Integrated Conservation of Tree Species by Botanic Gardens: a reference manual

This manual focuses attention on tree conservation and is designed to guide and stimulate action to ave threatened trees from extinction. The manual includes step-by-step guidelines for conserving tress and perspectives on special issues related to tree conservaiton are illustrated by case studies. 


Saving plants, saving the planet - Botanic gardens and the implementation of GSPC Target 8

This report, prepared by BGCI for the 10th Conference of the Parties to the CBD in 2010, provides a review of progress towards GSPC target 8 


What is the Conservation Value of a Plant in a Botanic Garden? Using Indicators to Improve Management of ex situ Collections. (488KB)

A common goal in managing a botanical living collection is to maintain the greatest biodiversity at the greatest economic and logistic efficiency. However to date there is no unified strategy for managing living plants. The article discusses the proposed strategy and how this can be implemented. 



Botanic gardens play a vital role in implementing ex situ conservation of wild plant diversity and many have been active in ensuring work towards Target 8 ’75% of threatened plant species are in ex situ collections’

Ex-situ conservation methods include:

  • Plant Collections

  • Seed Banks

  • Herbaria

  • Tissue culture – allowing the propagation of difficult and threatened species important for maintaining the living collection and ecological restoration.

  •  Genetic analysis – DNA banks

BGCI has been monitoring progress towards this target using its PlantSearch database. PlantSearch is a database of plants in cultivation in botanic gardens around the world, linked to IUCN Red Lists and other databases. It currently holds records of at least 105,000 species equating to 30% of all known plants.  A recent study revealed that botanic garden collections include some 41% of known threatened plant species.

Multiple accessions of threatened species across the network will buffer against loss of threatened species, and provide genetic diversity for ecological restoration efforts.  However, 11% of globally threatened species are currently held in just one institution.  Furthermore, over half of endemic threatened species are not held ex situ within their country of origin, implying reduced availability for ecological or species restoration.

With respect to this Target, only gymnosperms meet the target threshold, with 89% of threatened species held ex situ.

On a national level significant progress has been made towards Target 8 in some countries, with 39% of threatened species in the USA and 56% in Australia/New Zealand being recorded in ex situ collections

The RBG Kew has also been involved at the national level with the UK Overseas Territories programs which has been actively promoting ex situ conservation practices by  establishing new botanic gardens and/or helping re-develop existing ones with a focus on conservation of native floras. For example in British Virgin Islands, Montserrat and Cayman Island native species nurseries have been set up within the botanic gardens where endemic and threatened species are in cultivation. More information can be found here

While progress at the national level is steady, the lack of data on which species are under threat globally (Target 2) makes assessments of progress at the global level challenging. It is considered unlikely that 75% of threatened plants species will be present in ex situ conservation by 2020.




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