The Canadian population of eastern mountain avens is located in the peatlands of Digby, Nova Scotia, and is one of only two global populations. Photo:  G. Tompkins

As the first buds appear on trees and new shoots emerge from the ground heralding the arrival of spring, it is important to reflect on the essential role of plants and the need for their conservation. Despite being often overlooked, plants provide food, medicine, and oxygen, and are vital for healthy ecosystems. However, many plant species in Canada are at risk of extinction due to habitat loss, climate change, and human activities.

According to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), over 200 plant species are at risk of extinction across the country, including iconic species such as the eastern prairie fringed orchid found in the tallgrass prairie ecosystems of Ontario, and the golden paintbrush, an endangered Garry Oak ecosystem plant found in BC. Many of the animal species that WPC works to save rely on these ecosystems. The loss of these plant species would not only be a tragedy for Canada’s biodiversity but would also have significant ecological impacts.

This year marks a significant milestone in WPC’s history as we are now supporting endangered plant conservation. The Canadian Species Initiative, a partnership between WPC and African Lion Safari, has been engaged by federal and provincial governments to facilitate conservation planning for one of the most endangered plants in Canada, eastern mountain avens (Geum peckii). This rare plant is only found in peatland habitats in Digby County, Nova Scotia, and high elevation rocky slopes of the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Peatland in Digby County, Nova Scotia: one of only two global locations where the eastern mountain avens is found. Photo: J. Gaudet

Wetland habitats, such as the unique community of bog vegetation where eastern mountain avens grows in Canada, are rich in biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services. Sadly, the eastern mountain avens is threatened by climate change, shrub encroachment, expanding gull colonies, and water management, causing declines in many of the small, scattered populations in Nova Scotia.

Addressing the threats to eastern mountain avens is challenging, but fortunately, we have a few conservation tricks up our sleeves!

Eastern mountain avens, a member of the rose family that may seem unimpressive here, but it produces beautiful yellow flowers in the summer.

Checking out the ex situ population of eastern mountain avens at the Acadia University botanical garden.

Ex situ conservation measures are one approach that can help support conservation and prevent extinction of endangered plant species. Ex situ conservation refers to the practice of managing species outside their natural habitat, in a stable environment where they can be protected from the threats they face in the wild. This can include the cultivation of plants in botanical gardens or storage of plant material in seed or tissue banks, or both, as is the case of eastern mountain avens.

Ex situ conservation programs, along with conservation efforts in the wild, can help directly address threats to endangered species or offset the effects of those threats, protect against species extinction in cases of ongoing threats, or even restore wild populations.

To determine how the eastern mountain avens ex situ population can best compliment wild conservation efforts like habitat restoration, population monitoring, and ecological research, the Canadian Species Initiative hosted the first-ever detailed assessment of ex situ conservation strategies for a plant species. Following a roadmap developed by the IUCN Conservation Planning Specialist Group, this assessment brought together a diverse group of species experts, including recovery team members and other interested parties, who reviewed current research and threats to eastern mountain avens, and evaluated ex situ conservation strategies to determine what is feasible and would have most significant impact.

The recommendations from the workshop will provide guidance to governments on the best strategies for eastern mountain avens recovery.

In the fight against biodiversity loss and climate change, plant conservation is a crucial issue in Canada requiring the collective efforts of governments, organizations, communities, and individuals. By working together and using proven conservation planning processes and tools, we can ensure that future generations can continue to benefit from Canada’s rich plant heritage.

Stephanie Winton, the Canadian Species Initiative Coordinator gives a travelogue presentation on her experience working on reptile conservation projects in Mauritius as the 31st Canada’s New Noah.

Stephanie Winton

Species Conservation Planning Coordinator– Canadian Species Initiative

tephanie was the 31st Canada’s New Noah and has stayed on with WPC to work with the Canadian Species Initiative to build capacity for species conservation planning in Canada. Stephanie has extensive experience working in conservation and research for species-at-risk risk reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds in Western Canada.

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