Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
  Astronomy
  Biology
  Chemistry
  Mathematics
  Physics
  Other
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Cameroon
  Canada
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Finland
  France
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Malta
  Mexico
  Netherlands
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States


This page was published on 03/11/2005
Published: 03/11/2005

   Headlines

Last Update: 03-11-2005  
Related category(ies):
Agriculture & food  |  Research policy  |  Environment  |  Pure sciences

 

Add to PDF "basket"

EU project ‘Ensconet' ensconces a once-lost Belgian grass

A rare grass species has been brought back from the grave by the National Botanic Garden of Belgium, member of an EU-wide native seed conservation network called Ensconet. The ‘Brome of Ardennes' grass was thought extinct in the wild since the 1930s.

It is important to keep records of wild grasses such as this like this Bromus hordeaceus found in Spain's Balearic Islands. © Virtual Herbarium, Balearic Islands University
It is important to keep records of wild grasses such as this Bromus hordeaceus found in Spain's Balearic Islands.
© Virtual Herbarium, Balearic Islands University
Up to 60 000 plants – more than one-fifth of the world's botanical species – are threatened or face extinction in the wild. But one rare grass species, Bromus bromoideus (the ‘Brome of the Ardennes'), has made a Lazarus-like comeback, thanks to the curiosity of a scientist in Belgium.

David Aplin of the National Botanic Garden (NBG) of Belgium first learned about the famed Brome of the Ardennes while preparing for an Ensconet – European Native Seed Conservation Network – meeting in Crete earlier this year. “I was searching for examples of extinct Belgian species to illustrate a presentation,” he said in a statement, and Bromus bromoideus was a prime candidate. Or so Aplin thought.

After some sleuthing, he uncovered seeds stored deep in the vaults. “It was clear that I was probably looking at the last few remaining seeds of this species in existence,” he said.

This uncommon little grass lived almost exclusively in the calcareous meadows of the provinces of Liege and Luxembourg, especially around Rochefort, Beauraing and the town of Comblain-au-Pont, where it was first discovered in 1821. Despite being a celebrated Belgian native for almost a century, changes in farming and interest in more exotic foreign imports saw Bromus bromoideus' star fade to the point of virtual extinction.

Aplin and colleagues checked with other botanists in Belgium, France and even as far away as the USA for further collections. They tracked down a small private stash of the seeds in Flanders, Belgium. But these were kept in sub-optimal conditions in an attic. In fact, one of the purposes of the Ensconet project is to improve modern seed-banking facilities so that cases like the Brome of the Ardennes one are not repeated.

Kiss of life
But the Belgians were not about to give up on the old seeds. Aplin took advantage of his role in the EU ‘Research Infrastructures' network to contact the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew (UK) – one of the world's leading seed science research institutes. A small batch of seeds were then sent to Kew in the odd chance they could give Brome the kiss of life.

In September, the news was back from Kew. The seeds had successfully germinated. Thierry Vanderborght, seed bank manager at the NBG was both relieved and buoyed by the result. “It was a relief to know that the garden's seed bank was fulfilling its purpose and it illustrates the key role that botanic gardens have in conserving some of the world's most vulnerable plant species,” he said.

“This is one of the first successes of the recently formed conservation network across Europe funded by the EU,” Vanderborght stressed. Ensconet was formed in November 2004 and is headed by Kew's Royal Botanic Gardens. In addition to Kew and Belgium, 17 other institutes from a dozen countries in Europe have joined forces to protect the continent's most endangered species.

“Working together, [we] can reduce duplication and improve data collection and management,” noted Simon Linington, head of curation at Kew's MSB, and Ensconet coordinator. “This will be to the advantage of the many plants, such as Bromus bromoideus, facing extinction.”

The Brome of the Ardennes is not completely out of trouble yet, the botanists stressed. “We now believe the total number of viable seeds remaining to be fewer than 10 000, making this species [still] one of the most threatened in the world.” Only 35% of those are viable, it is thought. Seedlings are now being grown at a secret location, where it is hoped they will produce fresh seed stocks for conserving in temperature-controlled banks across Europe.

EU project, Ensconet

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

Ensconet (registered user only)

Kiss of life saves extinct grass (Innovations Report, 18 October 2005)

More on plant Bromus/genres (Wikipedia)

Research Infrastructures (in FP6)

Virtual Herbarium (Balearic Islands University)


Contacts
Research Contacts page
  Top   Research Information Center