Look at the landscape from a distance and you could be forgiven for thinking that only a handful of plant species occur in the Falklands, but explore a little further and you will discover an interesting variety of plants to delight and surprise... from cushion plants several metres in diameter to a grass that grows up to 3 m tall. With recent additions to the flora, there are now 177 vascular plant species recorded as native to the Islands as well as one hybrid. Fourteen vascular plant species are endemic to the Falklands and two are near endemics.
Positioned between the Antarctic and South American continents it is worth remembering that many native Falkland plants are at the eastern and southern limits of their range. What does this mean? Well it means that here in the Falklands these species are likely to be at or near the limit of their tolerance for environmental factors and therefore may be genetically or physiologically distinct from those on the continent. Conserving a species throughout its range is extremely important so as to safeguard the full genetic variation found within it.
91% of Falkland native species are also found in South America. All except two of the remaining species, Calandrinia cf. axiliflora (of uncertain taxonomic affinities) and the Falkland Cudweed Gamochaeta malvinensis (a near endemic of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia), are endemic to the Falklands. Of the Falkland native flora, 20% are also native in the sub-Antarctic zone, New Zealand or southeastern Australia. In contrast 9% have a bipolar distribution, occurring in the higher latitudes of North America and to a lesser degree Europe. The Falkland flora also includes the only two vascular species found on the Antarctic continent.
Click on the link below to read more about Falklands Conservation's flagship plant species, the endemic Lady's Slipper Calceolaria fothergillii (pictured above):
Click here for an overview of the different habitats found in the Falkland Islands
As a result of their isolation and small size, remote islands like the Falklands are naturally vulnerable to ecological change. There are several major factors, including invasive plant species and soil erosion, which threaten some elements of the native flora. As a result six vascular plant species are globally threatened, one near threatened and 26 are currently recorded as nationally threatened (currently under review).
To help address the conservation needs of the Islands’ flora Falklands Conservation initiated the Native Plants Project. This project is run by Plant and Habitat Conservation Officer, Dr. Rebecca Upson, and funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme and the Falkland Islands Government. The overall goal of the project has been to develop a strategy for safe-guarding the native flora of the Falkland Islands. This programme of practical conservation work, research, education and awareness-raising began in 2007 and runs through until February 2012.
Central to the work of the Native Plants Project has been the identification of key sites for the most threatened flora of the Islands. Falklands Conservation has applied the Important Plant Areas (IPAs) programme (coordinated internationally by Plantlife International and IUCN) to the Falkland Islands and identified 16 IPAs.
RGB Kew is giving valuable assistance to the project, including working within the Islands to expand local capacity and provide training for project staff and volunteers. The team at Kew are also launching an online herbarium which includes images of Falkland plant specimens.
Key outputs of the Native Plants Project include:
Along with the plants that have naturally colonised the Falkland Islands, 241 vascular plant species have been accidentally or otherwise introduced. Of these, 139 species have become naturalised with a subset of these having the ability to become invasive and out-compete the native flora, thereby also posing a serious threat. The introduced plant species currently posing the highest threats are Calafate Berberis microphylla, Gorse Ulex europaeus, Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense and Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare. Such species are of equal concern to farmers and conservationists alike with their ability to smother native vegetation and to contaminate wool with serious economic implications.
These threats have only recently been identified, but significant progress has been made in the last 4 years by Falklands Conservation (FC), the Falkland Islands Government (FIG), the South Atlantic Invasive Species Project (SAISP), and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG, K). Research and control actions have targeted a number of invasive plant species, including Thistles (Cirsium vulgare and C. arvense), Ragworts (Senecio jacobea and S. squalidus) and precautionary control of over 20 species that have only recently become established in the Falklands.
A new DEFRA-funded project, run by Richard Lewis, aims to develop a co-ordinated strategy to deal with all invasive plants in the Falklands and increase local capacity to implement this strategy. The project will collate existing information; fill some of the highest priority knowledge gaps; and identify and prioritise additional knowledge gaps and control actions. It further develops existing partnerships between FC, the FIG and the RBG, Kew and builds on research that has taken place over the past few years. There is a strong focus on prevention and early intervention as these are cost effective actions, most likely to result in successful eradication.
Click here to find out more about the new DEFRA-funded invasive plant programme
Upson R (in prep.). Checklist and Red List for the native vascular flora of the Falkland Islands.
Upson, R., Hamilton, M. & Clubbe, C. (2010). Important Plant Areas Programme provides framework for Conservation in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Accepted for 2010 PlantaEuropa Proceedings.
Broughton, D.A. & McAdam, J.H. (2005). A checklist of the native vascular flora of the Falkland Islands. Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society, 132(1):115-148
Broughton, D.A. & McAdam, J.H. (2002). The vascular flora of the Falkland Islands: An annotated Checklist and Atlas. A report to Falklands Conservation
Broughton DA & McAdam JH (2002) . A Red Data List for the Falkland Islands vascular flora. Oryx, 36(3), 279-287.
Broughton, D.A. & McAdam, J.H. (2002). The non-native vascular flora of the Falkland Islands. Bot. J. Scot. 54: 153-190
Broughton, D.A., McAdam, J.A. & Brännström, R. (2000). A Combined Checklist and Ecogeographic conspectus for the Vascular Flora of Saunders Island, Falkland (Malvinas) Islands. Annales Instituto Patagonia, Serie Cs. Nat. (Chile). 28: 57-88
Moore, D.M. (1968). The Vascular Flora of the Falkland Islands. British Antarctic Survey Scientific Reports. No. 60. Natural Environment Research Council, London.
Text by Rebecca Upson, Falklands Conservation