The Caucasus Plant Biodiversity Initiative

The Caucasus biodiversity hotspot constitutes one of the biologically most diverse areas in the northern hemisphere. The initiative involves partners from the region to strengthen scientific capacities and collaboration. The long term scientific goal is to better understand the evolution of Caucasian plant diversity and the factors shaping diversity patterns at the population, species and ecosystem levels, including a robust taxonomic framework. Results are intended to support conservation and land-use planning, and sustainable use of plant diversity in the Caucasus.

Within the framework of the initiative the project “Developing tools for conserving the plant diversity of the Transcaucasus” both capacity building and research are addressed. Activities are currently implemented in collaboration with the principal botanical institutions from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. The goal is to support institutions in partner countries by improving lab facilities and collections (e.g. herbaria), carrying out academic and technical training (e.g. in the form of PhD projects) and exchanging scientists and technical staff. The research focuses on three typically Caucasian habitat types: Arcto-Tertiary forests, xerophytic woodlands, and high mountain ecosystems. Selected Caucasian plant genera (e.g. CampanulaDianthusPapaverPyrus) are studied as model groups to understand their phylogeny and biogeography and to provide an up to date taxonomic base. Work is also done on the phylogeography and conservation genetics of selected Arcto-Tertiary trees (AlbiziaGleditsiaPterocarya and Zelkova) and on the diversity and taxonomy of the Caucasian bryophytes and lichens. Research results on these model groups are used to build up data bases and on-line resources on plant diversity in the region. The project is supported by the VolkswagenStiftung (2011- 2014) in the programme “Between Europe and the Orient”.