It stands to reason that it is not possible to conserve any species of which nothing is known and frequently what is known about any particular species approaches nothing. One of the greatest contributions anyone can make to conservation is the accumulation of information about one particular subject that interests the potential conservationist, attempting anything on a larger scale may become unmanageable. Ultimately, though, one must learn about all the other factors in the same ecosystem that are having some effect on the chosen subject.
The main disipline to be practiced here is taking that need to covet material, so inherent in humans, and replacing it with the need to covet information.
There are 5 main places where information on plants can be sourced:
Literature (including the www): Follow up any and all references pertaining to the subject, where-ever and by whosoever written. Reinventing the wheel is a waste of valuable time. Looking at closely related species can also have some value. It is said that Biology can only make sense if evaluated in terms of evolution. As a sequel, one may arrive at a starting point by establishing a theory concerning some aspect of the subject derived from information known about a closely related species, which can then be subjected to further analysis to determine whether it will stand up. Accumulate and arrange all this material so as to be in a position to gauge what is known, and where there is an information gap.
Herbaria: If one can gain access to relevant herbaria, do so; this will help with concepts of distribution, and may assist at a later date if one is confronted by a lack of taxonomic clarity. An exhaustive search through the often random sampling represented in the herbaria of the world is unlikely to aid much in the information gathering process regarding conservation issues. Herbaria were not designed with this in mind. Do not certainly book a flight to London to examine a century-old, brown flower housed in an envelope stuck to the middle of a large sheet of heavy paper; one could utilise resources of time and money much more sensibly than that.
Field: Often this offers the greatest joy and satisfaction. Find as many specimens of the subject as possible in the field, making copious notes. Select a convenient location to which repeated visits can be made, returning regularly and spending as much time as possible inspecting and reflecting upon the specimens, in all seasons of the year; not only when the subject is in flower.
Greenhouse: Although I cannot discourage the collection of safely-situated, living plants enough, there may be times when threatened plant material becomes available and such an opportunity should be seized, as it will supply convenient research material and could reveal much about the ability to maintain the subject in cultivation, amongst other things. The greenhouse will also serve where seedlings have been raised from seed collected from the field, offering further valuable information.
Laboratory: This may be any sort of facility one has (often a kitchen will do) to make further studies of small samples of material brought from the field or greenhouse. For some work, one may need to beg the use of the facilities and equipment of others. A well-appointed, modern laboratory would of course be ideal, but anything is better than nothing. The field also presents some sort of laboratory where small, non-threatening experiments may be conducted. It is as well to remember that one has little control over what transpires in the field, but usually one can get some useful work done over a few seasons.
Add to all of this a sensible, logical, inquisitive mind and a place to store and organise the information (computers were made for this job) and the conservationist is well situated to make the first steps towards actually doing something practical.
© 2004-2009 Greig Russell