Human activity is reducing habitat for many species, creating the need for conservation efforts. In situations where plants face extreme challenges translocating plants, taking them to another place where they face fewer pressures, is an option but it’s not without risks. Plants don’t live as isolated units, and while some relationships with other microbes, plants and animals are replaceable others are not. Mohammed Diallo and colleagues at the Université Paris-Saclay reviewed the conservation and protection status of translocated species to understand how and why conservationists were using translation.
Diallo and colleagues used the TransLoc Database to gain an understanding of the situation. The researchers used the TransLoc database to compile data on 436 plant populations in France. They found these translocations covered 193 species present. So they then used the French National Red List of vascular plant species, and their national and regional protection status, to find out how endangered these plants were.
The team then looked to see why the plants were moved. Often a plant could be moved for conservation reasons, to improve the well-being of the species, but this wasn’t always the case. If a site is being developed, then there can be a legal obligation on the developer to translocate plants. However, unlike the conservationists, the developer does not necessarily have a conservation goal. Diallo and colleagues write:
[M]any mitigation-driven translocation cannot be considered as conservation translocations because they simply aim to prolong the life of individuals without benefit at the population level. This is the case when individuals are moved to a different area within the same population, or to another population whose viability will not be improved by the translocation because the translocated individuals do not add new alleles and the host population is large and already at the carrying capacity of the environment… Diallo et al. 2023.
Diallo and colleagues found that there were significantly fewer mitigation-driven translocations than conservation-driven translocations (142 vs 229 respectively), with large differences between regions. In addition, the local threats facing the populations differed significantly between mitigation and conservation-driven translocations. For mitigation-driven translocations, the most frequent threats were transportation and service corridors and residential and commercial developments. For conservation-driven translocations the most frequent threats were human disturbance and natural system modifications.
The researchers also found that only a third of translocated species were nationally protected and two-thirds were regionally protected. In the IUCN red list, only 14% of the translocated species were considered threatened (CR, EN, VU) at the national level and a third at the regional level. The implication of this result is that a lot of the translocated plants were not threatened. Why would conservationists be more likely to use translocations for less threatened species?
One explanation is that the lists may be out of date. The national list of protected plant species was last updated a decade ago and the list of plants that cannot be collected without ministerial authorisation has not been updated since 1995.
Another reason might be the risk and difficulty. For the more endangered species, finding a suitable new location is complicated. Endangered species can also have more particular needs for reproduction or establishment. They may also have more needs for conservation and propagation during the translocation process. All of this adds expense and adding in the possibility of failure means that with the most endangered species, conservationists feel the money is better spent protecting the plants where they are.
Diallo and colleagues conclude that translocations are problematic, and whether they’re conservation or mitigation led, they should be evaluated fully to improve translocation efforts in the future. However, they emphasise the importance of conserving the original habitats wherever possible. Ideally, they argue, conservation efforts will mean there’s no need for translocations.
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Diallo, M., Mayeur, A., Vaissière, A.-C. and Colas, B. (2023) “The relevance of plant translocation as a conservation tool in France,” Plant Ecology. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-023-01295-4.