New York Botanical Garden (2012)

Vietnam Flora

Project Details

Grantee Organization: New York Botanical Garden
Grant Amount: $181,700
Contact: Douglas C. Daly
Contact Email: ddaly 'atsign' nybg.org
Funding Dates: 6/15/12 - 6/30/16
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Vietnam has a highly diverse but neglected and heavily threatened flora, and most of the specimens and associated data are effectively inaccessible. Efforts to assess and protect plant diversity in Vietnam are hamstrung by the country’s lack of herbarium databases and botanical web resources. The country has relatively underdeveloped lists of flora, and many records are poorly validated. The HN herbarium in Hanoi has about 500,000 specimens, most need improved preservation, and only 10% of which are databased. Still, the country has a cadre of talented professional botanists, and the national parks have new infrastructure and staffing, generating great potential for documenting the country’s plant biodiversity.

Key Objectives and Activities

The overarching goal of this project is to position the HN herbarium as a valuable resource for regional biodiversity conservation and research via curation of existing specimens, capacity-building at regional institutions, and modernization and dissemination of floristic data. The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) will provide equipment and training to committed specialists at the HN herbarium, enabling them to image and database prioritized plant families and generate validated plant checklists for those families and for Bach Ma National Park. Through field expeditions, the project will also train herbarium, national park personnel, and students on collecting new specimens, thus initiating a strategy for floristic inventory that can be applied throughout Vietnam’s national park system. Data from existing and new collections will be integrated with data from other regional specialists, centralized on a university website, and made globally available to researchers and conservationists through the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). Lastly, this project will enrich the outreach and education components of the national parks by working with staff to generate signage and multimedia interpretation tools for flora of Bach Ma National Park.

Planned Outputs

  • Database of mounted, imaged, geo-referenced specimens focusing on 11 important plant families at HN Herbarium in Hanoi, accounting for about 14,000 specimens.
  • Checklists of these 11 families for Vietnam, and of all flora in Bach Ma National Park
  • Local infrastructure, including technology and trained professionals, to conduct a floristic inventory for Vietnam’s national park system.
  • Web resource that facilitates access to floristic data and publicizes new discoveries and developments in plant systematics in Vietnam.
  • Educational materials, including interpretive signage and printed material, on plant diversity for visitors to Bach Ma National Park.

Planned Outcomes

This project will initiate the mainstreaming of Vietnamese floristic data, modernizing a large portion of the currently under-utilized collection at HN herbarium, and vastly improving data accessibility for research and conservation. Training local professionals to manage the herbarium using the latest imaging and cataloging technology will build the sustainable infrastructure required to extend this project to documenting the flora of all of Vietnam’s national parks. With information on the distribution, diversity, and uniqueness of Vietnam’s plants, conservation planning can target areas of high endemism for protection, and identify sites that have historically been under-sampled for future exploration and collection. Additionally, the project will work with national park staff to integrate botanic information into educational material for park visitors, enhancing local and international public engagement with Vietnam’s natural biodiversity resources.

Primary Software Platforms

Herbarium staff will be trained to conduct databasing of specimens in Botanical Research And Herbarium Management System (BRAHMS) and will convert the existing Access database into BRAHMS.

Results to Date

  • Addition of 4 specialists to the Vietnamese databasing team, allowing the project to expand from 11 to 14 prioritized plant families.
  • Completion of 2 collecting expeditions to Bach Ma National Park to expand collections and train staff and students on field techniques. The second trip generated more than 500 new collections, all of which have been at least provisionally identified. The existing list of Bach Ma flora currently documents 509 species in the park.
  • Production of regional BRAHMS workshop in Malaysia, with participants from Vietnam, Malaysia, and Myanmar. The workshop facilitated training and networking for herbarium professionals from the 3 countries.
  • Complete data for 19,632 specimens and 19,310 linked images, representing nearly 1,400 species.
  • Consolidation of network of specialists working on flora of SE Asia.
  • IEBR specialist visit to inventory, identify, curate, and evaluate NYBG collection of Asian Vitaceae.
  • An illustrated guide to the plants of Ha Long Bay, published by IEBR, which utilizes data provided by the project.
  • Publication of 7 new species descriptions and a total of 9 blog posts for the Vietnam botanical audience.
  • Launch of the Hanoi Herbarium website.

Lessons Learned

The project team has ably navigated the challenges of establishing new partnerships across national parks, herbarium, and agencies that support national information infrastructure in Vietnam. After many decades of protracted warfare, followed by a long period during which it was very much closed to the outside world, Vietnam is still emerging from deep isolation. This is especially true of its botanical institutions and resources, which is much of what made it so appealing for our project. Through carefully targeted support for infrastructure, training, and personnel for utilizing those resources, the project had an enormous impact, bringing Vietnam’s national herbarium into the current century and making substantial data on the Vietnamese flora available to the Vietnamese and global scientific communities. On the other hand, the very isolation that made Vietnam and IEBR such an appealing priority also meant that IEBR was inexperienced, not only in conducting its end of a research grant, but also in understanding the potential applications of this newly accessible biodiversity data.More of a challenge than the institutional bottlenecks was the lack of a perspective and understanding of how biodiversity data can contribute to conservation and management of natural resources. In retrospect, had the team understood their difficulties, especially with interpretation and perspective, they would have included training specifically geared toward applications of the website and its many features.

Despite these challenges, there are encouraging signs of increasing awareness of and potential for conservation impacts. A total of nine blogs, mostly about new species discovered during the execution of this project, have been posted by researchers at IEBR on the VAST website. The administration of Bach Ma National Park is becoming more aware of its value as an example for the remaining 24 national parks in the country, and it is the hope of the project team that the IEBR will disseminate the efficient system for documentation of Vietnam national park floras developed by this project.

Related publications

  • Do Van Hai; Yun-fei Deng; Ritesh Kumar Choudhary; Joungku Lee (2016) Rungia daklakensis (Acanthaceae), a new species from Vietnam. Annales Botanici Fennici, 53: 219-222 (SCI). (link)
  • Akiko Soejima; Shuichiro Tagane; Ngoc Nguyen Van; Chinh Nguyen Duy; Nguyen Thi Thanh Huong; Tetsukazu Yahara (2016) Callicarpa bachmaensis Soejima & Tagane (Lamiaceae), a new species from Bach Ma National Park in Thua Thien Hue Province, Central Vietnam. PhytoKeys. 2016; (62): 33–39. (link)
  • Do Van Hai; Nguyen Khac Khoi; Ritesh Kumar Choudhary; Deng Yunfei; Sangjin Lee; Joongku Lee (2016). Justicia kampotiana Benoist (Acanthaceae): a new record for the flora of Vietnam. Korea Journal of Plant Taxonomy, 46(1): 55-59. (link)
  • Do, TV; DQ Nguyen; TQT Nguyen; S Wanke; C Neinhuis (2015) Aristolochia cochinchinensis (Aristolochiaceae), a new species from southern Vietnam. Annales Botanici Fennici. 52: 268-173. (link)
  • Cuong, NT; DT Hoan; DJ Mabberley (2014) Monronia petiolata (Meliaceae), a new species from Vietnam. Blumea. 59: 139 – 141. (link)
  • Ha, MT; KH Nguyen; TC Nguyen; TB Tran (2014) Sapindus sonlaensis (Sapindaceae), a new species from Vietnam. Brittonia. 66(2): 131 – 133. DOI: 10.1007/s12228-013-9313-1
  • Huong, NTT; DV Hai; BH Quang; NT Cuong; NS Khang; DQ Vu; J Ma (2014) Aristolochia xuanlienensis, a new species of Aristolochiaceae from Vietnam. Phytotaxa. 188(4):176-180. (link)

Project Director Biography

Douglas Daly, Ph.D., is the B. A. Krukoff Curator of Amazonian Botany, and Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany, at the New York Botanical Garden. A plant systematist with three decades of field experience in tropical countries, he specializes in on of the most ecologically important families of trees (Burseraceae – including frankincense and myrrh) in the tropics. Through his work in Acre, Brazil, he has experience in converting a data black hole into a biodiversity asset, and based on that work, an important part of his mission is to support this kind of transformation in extremely biodiverse places that have the human resources, basic infrastructure, and commitment, but require only modest support to drastically increase their ability to document and protect their biological diversity.

Note from JRS

JRS successfully partnered with NYBG in 2009 to conduct a similar project in the Southwestern Amazon Basin. Transferring this model for “rescuing” data from decaying colonial-era collections to Vietnam’s amazingly diverse, and relatively understudied flora, holds great potential for returns on capacity investment including equipment and software infrastructure. In addition, this project and JRS-funded projects in Latin America inform the design of similar projects in sub-Saharan Africa and provide technical resources for our African projects.  This project ran into early delays in dealing with institutional issues and changing institutional leaders yet had the benefit of dedicated technical personnel at the project level.  As relationships were developed within Vietnam and between NYBG and its partners, work quickly accelerated. This project has the unique feature of being connected to a protected area with an engaged and dynamic park director.  This lets the team span from herbarium digitization and taxonomy to field collections, ranger education, and public education.  As the project heads into its home stretch in 2016, the challenge on the horizon is to secure ongoing funding to preserve Vietnam’s extraordinary floral heritage.

Last Updated: July 6th, 2017

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