Safeguarding a Rare Plant in Changing Climates and Lands

Jim Crocker
21st March, 2024

Safeguarding a Rare Plant in Changing Climates and Lands

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • In China, researchers identified 17 cities ideal for cultivating the medicinal plant Thesium chinense
  • About 65% of suitable habitats for T. chinense won't be affected by future land use changes
  • The study provides a plan to balance traditional medicine needs with biodiversity conservation
In the realm of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the sustainability of wild medicinal plants is of paramount concern, especially as human activity and ecological degradation threaten their existence. One such plant, Thesium chinense, recognized for its antibiotic properties, has faced significant overharvesting, leading to a drastic decrease in its wild populations. Researchers from Harbin Normal University have taken on the challenge of scientifically planning for the cultivation of this valuable plant to ensure its future availability[1]. The study conducted by Harbin Normal University focused on identifying the primary environmental factors that influence the distribution of T. chinense. To achieve this, the team used three atmospheric circulation models to simulate the current and future climatic conditions. These models were then paired with four socio-economic scenarios, known as Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which range from sustainable development (SSP1-2.6) to rapid growth without sustainability (SSP5-8.5). The Biomod2 package, a collection of tools and statistical models, was employed to forecast changes in the areas suitable for T. chinense growth. Furthermore, the PLUS model was utilized to predict how land use might change over time in the regions where the climate remains suitable for T. chinense. This was complemented by the use of ZONATION software, which helped in planning the areas that should be prioritized for the wild tending of this plant. Through this multifaceted approach, the researchers could pinpoint regions in China where T. chinense could be cultivated without clashing with future land use changes. The study's findings reveal that, over the next century, the climate-stable regions for T. chinense in China will cover roughly 383.05 × 10^4 km^2. However, the natural habitat within this area is expected to decline gradually. Currently, about 65.06% of the habitats in the highly suitable areas for T. chinense are likely to remain unaffected by future land use changes. The researchers went a step further by conducting a hotspot analysis, which identified 17 cities as ideal locations for the wild tending of T. chinense. These include six core hotspot cities, six sub-hotspot cities, and five fringe hotspot cities. This research ties into broader environmental trends noted in previous studies. For instance, a study on the European beech, Fagus sylvatica, highlighted the effects of climate change and human activities on plant distribution, with similar methods such as spatial analyses being employed to understand these impacts[2]. The current study expands this approach by integrating socio-economic scenarios to better predict future land use changes. Moreover, the greening patterns observed in satellite data, particularly in China, indicate an increase in vegetation cover due to human land management and climate change[3]. The planning for T. chinense cultivation aligns with these patterns, suggesting a proactive role in shaping land use to support biodiversity. Lastly, insights from the study of invasive species have shown that rapid evolution can occur in response to environmental changes[4]. While T. chinense is not an invasive species, understanding the dynamics of how species adapt to changing conditions can inform the conservation strategies for native medicinal plants. The research from Harbin Normal University provides a comprehensive framework not only for the conservation and cultivation of T. chinense but also offers a model that can be applied to other medicinal plants at risk. This strategic planning is crucial for balancing the needs of traditional medicine with the preservation of biodiversity in the face of ongoing environmental and socio-economic changes.

SustainabilityEcologyPlant Science


Main Study

1) Distribution and protection of Thesium chinense Turcz. under climate and land use change.

Published 18th March, 2024

Related Studies

2) Shedding light on the effects of climate and anthropogenic pressures on the disappearance of Fagus sylvatica in the Italian lowlands: evidence from archaeo-anthracology and spatial analyses.

3) China and India lead in greening of the world through land-use management.

4) Evolutionary responses to global change: lessons from invasive species.

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