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Middelburg cycad (Encephalartos middelburgensis)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 11253174

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 11253174) - Middelburg cycad - Awarded $15,000 on January 03, 2012


Critically endangered (IUCN Red List, 2010) E. middelburgensis is native to South Africa and confined to the Witbank and Middelburg districts in the provinces of Gauteng and Mpumalanga (Donaldson, 2009). In situ conservation E. middelburgensis sub-populations are severely fragmented due to illegal removal of mature plants. Re-assessments done in 2009 and 2010 indicated that most females in sub-populations have become isolated from males and coning frequencies are not in sync which results in very limited or lack of natural pollination. Preliminary monitoring results also indicate complete absence of all Curculionidae which are the natural pollinators of the Encephalartos genus in all but one sub-population. Extensive surveys in 2009 yielded no seedling or sub-adult plants outside of the Nature Reserve but more intensive surveys are needed to establish if this absence of seedlings are due to illegal removal (poaching) or lack of pollination or both factors. Ex situ conservation in the Field: The current main method of ex situ conservation of E. middelburgensis is in field genebanks. The Lowveld National Botanical Garden (LNBG), Mpumalanga South Africa has been involved in cycad conservation since 1980 and as part of this project E. middelburgensis seed from one sub-population was collected to establish an open field gene bank where the plants are grown for conservation and research purposes. The Encephalartos collection is intensively managed to ensure genetic purity of all species and sub-species. Seedlings from the collections are currently sold to the public to alleviate the pressure on wild plants but the ultimate goal is to reintroduce the seedlings to the wild. Even though extensive security measures are taken to protect the collections in the LNBG, the high monetary value of these plants means that the collections are targeted by poachers. This leads to set backs in the conservation programme of up to 10 years with a constant threat that the complete collection could be lost due to poaching. Extensive knowledge in the ecology and propagation of Encephalartos generated in ex situ conservation conditions is essential for effective in situ conservation. To date open field genebanks was the only ex situ conservation method practised and although good results have been obtained this method is seriously threatened due to the impact of poaching of mature cone producing specimens. Hence conservation of E. middelburgensis requires a multidisciplinary approach integrating in situ and ex situ and particularly conservation biotechnology especially on developing techniques to store the seeds and pollens for long-term.


Geographical area of the project: Gauteng, Mpumalanga, South Africa • Target species / habitats covered by the organization: Encephalartos middelburgensis/ Mpumalanga, South Africa

Project 11253174 location - South Africa, Africa