In 2010, the Botanic Garden of the University of Fribourg (BGF, Switzerland), in collaboration with the Natural History Museum Fribourg (NHMF, Switzerland) and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI, United Kingdom), initiated an interdisciplinary project to undertake the scientific review and coordinated conservation actions on relict, rare and threatened woody species, with a main focus on the relict tree genus Zelkova (Ulmaceae). Further research partners joined Project Zelkova during the past years (see under Partners) forming today an international network of ca. 20 institutions from ca. 10 countries worldwide.
The eastern and western coasts of the United States have played a particularly important role as climatic refugia for plants during cold phases throughout the Cenozoic. Nowadays, these regions share some of the rarest relict trees with Asia and the Caucasus (e.g. Gleditsia, Liquidambar, Castanea). The United States are also very important for the Juglandaceae family, with approximately 11 species of Carya distributed along the East Coast and 6 species of Juglans along the West Coast. Thus, it became essential for the Zelkova-Team to enhance the general knowledge and understanding of relict trees and in particular of members of the Juglandaceae family coming from the New World. Therefore, an expedition was organized in the USA in October 2016 with the great help and collaboration of the Arnold Arboretum of the Harvard University.
Understanding the ecology of a species requires expeditions to its country of origin and visiting its wild populations. However, field explorations are often cost- and time-consuming, especially when lacking a solid background on the species that we want to study. The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh (UK) offers a unique alternative and allows studying different species of the genus Pterocarya found in its ex-situ collections. 2016 we have visited the garden twice and been able to observe the most important criteria of differentiation between the species (especially terminal buds, leaflet and nuts) and bring back numerous pictures and knowledge, which will be very helpful for future expeditions in wild populations of Pterocarya in Asia. We would like to thank warmly Peter Brownless of the Royal Botanic Garden of Edinburgh for his precious help and advice.
In April 2016 our Zelkova-team organized a scientific expedition to Costa Rica in order to explore and collect iconographic material of poorly known Juglandaceae of Neotropis. Costa Rica is center of species diversity for two genera of this family: Alfaroa (minimum 4 species) and Oreomunnea (2 species). They are typical elements of mountain forests and are growing often accompanied by some other trees belonging to temperate families and genera (e.g., Quercus, Alnus, etc.)
Between the 4th and 7th of July 2016 a workshop entitled “Relict trees in peril: conservation challenges and research projects across Eurasia” organized by our Zelkova-team took place in Tbilisi, Georgia (in collaboration with the Ilia State University, National Botanic Garden of Georgia and Rustaveli State University). Invited speakers from Switzerland, Italy, Poland, Iran, Azerbaijan, China, Vietnam and Japan as well as Georgian scientists presented their research projects and conservation actions carried out in different countries and regions from the Mediterranean to Eastern Asia. The symposium was followed by a scientific expedition to Western Georgia in order to visit natural populations of Zelkova carpinifolia and Pterocarya fraxinifolia and to discuss with local stakeholders the long term conservation of the relict forests of the Colchis region.
As part of the Zelkova abelicea conservation project, an ex situ plantation was established in the Levka Ori with the involvement of the Municipality of Platanias, the Forest Directorate of Chania (FDC), the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh) and the local Primary school of Skine-Fourne.
Project Zelkova addresses five main objectives
- Basic and applied research on relict, rare and/or threatened woody species (biogeography, conservation biology, phylogeny, phylogeography, population genetics, population structure, dendrochronology, etc.).
- Conservation actions (in situ and ex situ conservation), action plans and conservation status assessments.
- Capacity building (teaching, internships, exchange of students and young scientists, etc.).
- Public awareness and outreach (exhibitions, books, workshops, etc.).
- Iconographic collections (scientific photography, scientific drawings, etc.)
PTEROCARYA & JUGLANDACEAE
Conservation biogeography of Pterocarya & Juglandaceae
Relict and threatened woody species of Azerbaijan
Relict trees of China, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan