The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it. In addition to assembling The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, IUCN finds partners worldwide to help conserve threatened species. In October 2015, IUCN completed the cactus family assessment and determined it ranks as the fifth most threatened group of living things in the world. One week after publication of those findings Desert Botanical Garden became the host institute for the IUCN Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group (CSSG) and partners with IUCN to lead cactus and succulent conservation efforts worldwide. 

The Garden recently hosted a three-day conference to operationalize the partnership, discuss roles and priorities and develop short-term and long-term goals. 

“The workshop provided the opportunity for IUCN to gain a stronger understanding of who the Garden is and what we bring to the table and for us to learn more about IUCN and this particular specialist group,” says Dr. Kimberlie McCue, director of research, conservation and collections. “In addition to members of the Garden’s Research team and IUCN representatives, additional experts were brought in to guide us in this journey and help explore the linkages that will make the group and our partnership successful.”

A focus of the conference was developing a list of priorities, for the short, medium and long-term. The initial priorities include:

  1. Produce an authoritative list of cactus names. The taxonomy of the cactus family is messy and taxonomists are constantly analyzing relationships of different plants and assessing species names. “There are cactus species reference books from the 80s and 90s as well as various other lists, but with the expertise we have in-house at Desert Botanical Garden, we have the standing to look at the groups in the cactus family and really draw the line. This is a primary starting point to making successful conservation plans because we need to know what we are planning for,” says McCue.
  2. Globally assess the agave family. The Red List assessment process has yet to be done for the agave family. Only two of the more than 200 agave species have been fully assessed. “Without a global assessment, it would be impossible to create a conservation plan for the agave family. While we know what agave species are out there, we don’t know what their status in the wild is, where they are located, what their populations are and what threats they may face,” says McCue. “Completing the Red List process is so valuable as it will indicate where the CSSG can focus their efforts.”
  3. Publicize the partnership. The CSSG hopes to present at the International Organization for Succulent Plant Study conference to be held in Querétaro, Mexico in October 2017. “It is important that we publically share our plans for global assessment of the agave family. We need the expertise of other professionals in the field to complete the assessment,” says McCue.

“The goals of the CSSG are no small feat, but they are completely achievable. We have a committed group of experts and powerful connections through IUCN that gives us the opportunity to help lead a global community toward the conservation and preservation of the cactus and other succulent groups,” says McCue.

Special thank you to conference attendees:

  • Barbara Goettsch, CSSG chair and project leader for Plants for People (an IUCN initiative)  
  • Mark Stanley-Price, chair, IUCN Species Conservation Planning Subcommittee
  • Olivier Hasinger, coordinator, IUCN Species Survival Commission Network 
  • Patrick Griffith,  executive director of Montgomery Botanical Center / IUCN Host Institute for the Cycad Specialist Group
  • Joyce Maschinski, director of science for the Center for Plant Conservation and senior scientist in Plant Conservation San Diego Zoo Global.