Brazilian heads the largest garden in the world that was owned by Queen Elizabeth II

The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, England, is one of the oldest gardens in the world, with more than 260 years, its direct patron is the recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II and is considered by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, bringing together an extensive catalog of plants and fungi on a world scale, which exceeds the mark of millions of species.

At the head of this true ‘plant kingdom’ is a Brazilian: Alexandre Antonelli is director of science at the Royal Botanical Gardens, took over in 2019 and coordinates research and studies with the most varied species of plants present in the place.

Born in Campinas (SP), before assuming the position of director of Kew, Antonelli spent years as a professor at the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), where he taught on biodiversity. “I’ve worked with plants and biodiversity throughout my profession, Kew is a place where we have the largest collection of them”, he tells echo.

The seeds, fungi and vegetables present at the site serve as a kind of thermometer that points out which way the planet is going in terms of climate change and environmental preservation, in addition to integrating a library of world knowledge about the garden and life in it.

Royal Botanical Garden has more than 8 million species cataloged and helps to observe global warming - RBG KEW - RBG KEW

Royal Botanical Garden has more than 8 million species cataloged and helps to observe global warming

Image: RBG KEW

Plants help find solutions to global warming and hunger

Beyond the beauty of foliage and flowers, the Royal Botanical Garden invests in the study of its species in order to understand problems that plague the planet. This is done by comparing and observing the development of plants and fungi over time.

“The Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew is a global scientific organization researching solutions to some of the biggest challenges societies face. Our work contributes to finding science-based solutions to biodiversity loss, climate change and food security,” explains Antonelli.

According to Antonelli, understanding the evolutionary origins of different species and how they adapted to periods before climate change helps predict response and tolerance. [das espécies] to the ongoing climate crisis on the planet.

Royal Botanical Garden has more than 8 million species cataloged and helps to observe global warming - Image: RBG Kew/Reproduction - Image: RBG Kew/Reproduction

Royal Botanical Garden has more than 8 million species cataloged and helps to observe global warming

Image: Image: RBG Kew/Reproduction

But in addition to observing the reaction of these species to global warming over the years, the researcher explains that it is essential for this study to analyze the interactions between humans and plants throughout history.

“The history between humans and plants is also important and opens the opportunity to test specific hypotheses, for example, about the medical properties of these plants”, explains Antonelli.

“We are doing our utmost to tell this story of people interacting with plants from various perspectives, including their early uses, cultivation and economic values. This study is done through our interpretation signals directly in the garden and online in our extensive bench. of data”, he adds.

An encyclopedia of plants open to everyone

Kew Gardens originates from a private collection of botanical gardens funded by the royal family. It was Princess Augusta who founded the botanical garden in 1759. However, in 1772, her son, King George III, inherited the property of Kew and joined it to the royal estate in Richmond – two gardens became one. That’s why I use it in the plural: gardens.

It is currently a public place partially funded by taxpayers and through self-managed business models. The knowledge generated by the cataloging of more than thousands of species of plants and fungi is free to everyone in the world online and brings together past and present collections in the garden, which today has more than 50,000 living species.

In an old photo, ecologist Patricia Wiltshire appears looking for material in the herbarium of Kew Botanical Gardens, in London - Patricia Wiltshire - Patricia Wiltshire

In an old photo, ecologist Patricia Wiltshire appears looking for material in the herbarium of Kew Botanical Gardens, in London.

Image: Patricia Wiltshire

Antonelli calls this great cataloging of species a true ‘digital revolution’, which will help to share the wealth of Kew Gardens’ century-old knowledge.

“We provide scientists around the world with unprecedented access to collections of more than 8 million specimens of plants and fungi,” says Antonelli.

The data is in an open format and goes through a massive digitization system, which is part of the institution’s science program, the Kew Science Strategy2021-2025, which aims to expand access globally.

“We continue to examine and evaluate our scientific and historical collections, working with our international partners to diversify the structures in which we communicate our stories. Part of this involves making our collections of plants, fungi, botanical literature and other specimens accessible to the public and researchers.” comments Antonelli.

Material from the botanical garden is opened so that further research and studies can be carried out by scientists around the world - RBG KEW - RBG KEW

Material from the botanical garden is open so that new research and studies can be carried out by scientists from all over the world

Image: RBG KEW

Protection of plants, ecosystems and indigenous peoples

Kew’s activities help to preserve a wide variety of fungi and plants, but it extends this care by taking its researchers to work frequently with local communities and indigenous peoples to ensure that their knowledge and livelihoods are protected alongside the ecosystems they study. .

“We are protecting tens of thousands of plant species in their natural locations and working with partners around the world to identify priority areas for ‘in situ’ conservation. [onde as espécies ocorrem e vivem naturalmente]”, explains Antonelli.

“My personal experiences in Brazilian ecosystems help me to understand the existing challenges to protect biodiversity, but also give me hope for the great scientific discoveries that await scientists”, he adds.

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