Darach Lupton and his colleague Mr David Nkwanga of Nature Palace Botanic Gardens, Uganda are embarking a research project to assess the population genetics and the conservation requirements of Encephalartos equatorialis. The main research will run from 2010 to 2012, follow up initiatives relating to the species long-term conservation will continue to run between the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland and Nature Palace Botanic Gardens.
Encephalartos equatorialis is a cycad and a member of the Zamiaceae. The species is endemic to Uganda and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The species is highly restricted, known only from two locations on the low hills along the Northern shore of lake Victoria. Very little is known about the species biology or habitat requirements. Threats to the species survival are poorly understood. Anecdotal evidence suggests the male and female plants geographically isolated thus cross fertilization required for seed production does not naturally occur.
The key objective of the project is to ensure the long-term survival of Encepalatos equatorialis in its native habitat through a series of scientific and practical plant conservation measures.
- Conduct a comprehensive population census and habitat survey to determine the distribution and threats to Encephalartos equatorialis.
- Assess the levels and patterns of genetic variation in the two known populations and use this information to target genetically diverse individuals or populations for propagation, in-situ protection and the development of national and international ex-situ collections.
- Determine the reproductive requirements of Encephalartos equatorialis through a range of hand pollination and vegetative propagation experiments.
- Assess whether a natural pollinator exists within the species current range.
- Propagate seedlings and cuttings of Encephalartos equatorialis and use them for reintroduction/rehabilitation planting and for the development of national and international ex-situ conservation programs