Saving Endangered Cacti: Importance Of Conservation Of Cactus

Conservation Of Cactus

Cacti are some of the unique plants on earth, renowned for their exceptional survivability in arid, dry lands. It’s surprising that despite their hardiness, the conservation of cactus plants is currently a topic of great importance.

But why? 

The most severe reason cacti are endangered as a species is humans. Due to various exploitative human interactions, many cacti species are going through habitat loss.

Also, an uncontrolled amount of illegal collection is prohibiting many species from maintaining their propagation to the next generation.

Give this article a read to learn why cacti species go extinct. And what we as individuals and as a society should do to conserve them. 

Want to learn more about cactus 101:

The Current State of Endangered Cactus Species

A study conducted by ‘The Global Cactaceae Assessment’ has confirmed that almost 31% of species of cacti now lie in either the vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered categories.

The Current State of Endangered Cactus Species

Many Brazilian, African, Mexican, and American hotspots among the distribution of cactus worldwide are greatly diminishing in size due to modernization and infrastructure development.

Due to infrastructure development, a lot of cacti species once prevalent in Mexico are slowly becoming extinct. One prime example is Echinocactus Grusonii. A majority part of this specimen’s habitat was destroyed during the construction of a dam close to Zimapan, Mexico.

Many dry, arid plains were plowed in Mexico for the purpose of maize cultivation. This has destroyed the natural habitat of many cacti species. Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus is one of them.  (Pablo Ortega-Baes)

Prime Threatening Reasons Towards Cacti Species

Various factors are responsible for the current endangered state of cacti plants. Here are some of the most dominating reasons:

Prime Threatening Reasons Towards Cacti Species

Habitat Loss

Cacti are often threatened by habitat loss due to human activities such as urbanization, agricultural development, and resource mining. As natural areas are converted for human use, cactus populations are becoming fragmented and, as a result, endangered.

Climate Change

Climate change is altering the temperature and rainfall patterns in many regions where cacti are found. This affects cactus growth, reproduction, and survival and makes it difficult for some species to adapt to rapidly changing conditions.

Illegal Collection

Many cactus species are highly valued for their ornamental or medicinal properties. Most of them are illegally collected from the wild for sale in domestic and international markets.

Over-collecting can have a severe impact on cactus populations, especially if it occurs in sensitive areas or during critical life stages.

Excessive Grazing

Grazing is also an active factor in cactus extinction for some particular specimens.

Overgrazing by livestock can damage cactus populations by trampling plants, reducing the amount of available water, and altering the natural fire regime in some areas.

Cactus Conservation Efforts and Strategies

Two different approaches can be taken for the conservation of endangered cacti plants, In Situ or Ex Situ. Let’s take a look at what they actually mean.

Cactus Conservation Efforts and Strategies

In Situ Conservation

Protecting cacti species, generally any endangered species, in their natural habitat is classified as in situ conservation strategy.

This can be done through measures such as creating protected areas, and enforcing regulations to prevent habitat destruction and illegal collection.

Alongside this, conducting impactful research to understand the morphology, reproductive ecology, phylogeny and evolution of different cactus species better can help with taking proper in situ conservation measures.

Various organizations work to ensure that the regulations and restrictions are being maintained thoroughly within various prioritized areas. One example of such an organization is the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Some examples of prioritized areas in the United States are Big Bend National Park in Texas, Joshua Tree National Park in California, and Saguaro National Park in Arizona.

Meanwhile, in Latin America, you can find protected areas such as Parque Nacional del Pinacate in Sonora, Mexico, and Pan de Azúcar National Park in Chile.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is another organization that works to prevent the exploitation of certain animal and plant species through international trade (import/export).

For instance, species like Discocactus and Ariocarpus are categorized in the ‘most endangered’ section. CITES has restricted all sorts of trading of these plants except moving between countries for non-commercial purposes.  

Ex Situ Conservation

Ex situ conservation involves removing cacti from their natural habitat and caring for them in a controlled environment, such as a botanical garden or a seed bank.

This approach can be useful for cacti species that are in immediate danger of extinction as it allows for the propagation of new plants and the preservation of genetic diversity.

To successfully conserve plant species ex situ, it is crucial to establish specific objectives while maintaining accurate and detailed records. Propagation of an adequate number of plants is also essential to preserve genetic diversity.

Often too fragmented variants will require the implementation of ex situ method to propagate. (Expert, n.d.)

For instance, long-term storage of cacti and other succulent seeds is done at the Desert Botanical Garden in Arizona.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How can I learn more about cactus conservation?

There are many resources available for learning more about cactus conservation. These ways include websites of conservation organizations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Cactus and Succulent Society of America (CSSA), as well as various scientific journals and publications.

2. Which one is more effective between in situ and ex situ conservation strategies?

In situ strategies are more effective and desirable as it lets the plants thrive and grow in their natural habitat. This lets the plants keep their genetic variability intact. Many scientists have shown concern that ex situ conservation strategies aren’t viable as it doesn’t allow natural mutation and similar evolutionary process to take place.

3. Why is in situ conservation not always viable?

Although in situ conservation method is more desirable, it isn’t always achievable due to various obstacles. These obstacles include power abuse of political groups, corporations not being cooperative and many more. Also, if a specimen is too isolated due to extreme exploitation, ex situ conservation may be the only way to propagate it.

Final Words

Cacti are the world’s most threatened taxonomic plant group, and we humans are the prime reason behind their endangered state. It’s our duty to come together as a whole and contribute to the conservation of cactus plants.

Many organizations are working rigorously to ensure the survival of these valuable and unique plants for us and our future generations. I solely believe that only with our concentrated support and effort they can succeed in this venture.

Bibliography

  • Expert, T. C. (n.d.). Ex SItu Conservation. Retrieved from The Cactus Expert: https://www.cactusexpert.org/cultivation-of-cacti/ex-situ-conservation.html
  • Pablo Ortega-Baes, S. S. (n.d.). Diversity and Conservation in the Cactus Family. In Desert Plans.

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