Plants for society

Plants for society

All over the planet, plants and fungi have provided local populations with food, energy, materials for housing and tools, fibres for clothing, and medicines. In many parts of the world, plants remain the primary elements in fighting hunger, disease, and extreme poverty. Nowadays, cultural plant knowledge is being lost and with it the vital connections we have with plants and fungi. Our researchers record how plants and fungi are used so that this knowledge can be shared and distributed. Our scientists’ ability to identify plants, even from tiny or ancient remains, contributes to fields as diverse as forensic investigation, archaeology, ethnomycology, monitoring of biological water quality, sustainable logging, and studies of crop wild relatives.

The applied biodiversity research is organized in the following themes:

Diversity of crop wild relatives (CWRs)

The growing human population is facing major challenges regarding food security. Current and predicted patterns of global climate change, including rising temperatures, more frequent droughts and floods and spread of pests and diseases, will likely have an adverse effect on the yield of several important crop species. These changes will threaten food security around the world, with short- to mid-term risks being greatest for the poor in tropical regions. An important way in which agriculture can adapt to changing environmental conditions is through diversification. Increasing the diversity of crop species and varieties has the potential to reduce the vulnerability of agricultural systems to extreme conditions and increase resilience. Crop wild relatives (wild plant species related to crops) take up a critical position in the diversification of agriculture. These species are important sources of genetic variation, displaying different tolerances to heat, drought and moisture, and can be used as new crops or in breeding better adapted varieties that are resistant to new environmental conditions, stress and disease. It is therefore vital to safeguard this diversity, both through in situ and ex situ conservation.

The Garden, in close collaboration with other research institutes and international organizations (including Bioversity, Crop Trust, KU Leuven, and UGent), participates in ex situ conservation of crop wild relatives, including wild beans, coffee and banana species. We employ fundamental taxonomic and phylogenetic research of crop wild relatives to identify the evolutionary origins of crop species and to study population biology. Our scientists also perform research on the evolution of functional traits to assess adaptation potential of CWRs to a changing environment.

Wood identification

High rates of deforestation result in a physical metamorphosis of the world’s vegetation. Although a small fraction of forest logging in tropical regions occurs under severe regulations and international agreements, most logging activities are illegal. A reliable certification of wood is still lacking and causes widespread mal-governance in the timber trade industry. Good taxonomic knowledge combined with rapid and efficacious identification systems are needed for tracing illegal logging activities. Researchers of the Meise Botanic Garden, in collaboration with other European universities and research institutes, are developing identification tools to trace illegally sourced wood and timber in Central Africa using molecular methods. Once applied, these methods will be able to discourage illegal deforestation, and thus improve conservation of African trees.

Ethnomycology in Africa

Wild edible mushrooms are collected and consumed by millions of people worldwide. Also in vast areas in Africa exists a long tradition in the consumption of wild edible mushrooms. They are an important addition to the normal diet and can provide extra income. Many species also play an important ecological role because of their symbiotic relationship with living trees. The trees of the miombo forests of Central and Southern Africa would not even exist without their fungal partners. Meise Botanic Garden has a long tradition in studying and publishing papers and books on edible mushrooms in Africa. The local customs are mapped and the consumed species are taxonomically described and professionally illustrated. The socio-economic importance and potential of edible mushrooms is determined and considered a key factor for successful conservation of the remaining African forest areas.

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Expertise and services

Meise Botanic Garden puts its taxonomic expertise at the service of the general public, the government, and private companies. For more information visit the Expertise and services pages.