Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations, a conservation concept developed in China in 2005, are characterized by small remaining populations (lower than the minimum viable population), a restricted habitat, a high risk of extinction, and exposure to a high level of disturbance. A species with fewer than 5,000 mature individuals in the wild and fewer than 500 in each isolated population (except when only one population is known) qualifies for designation under Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations. The identification of a high level of disturbance and irreversible habitat destruction distinguishes Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations from naturally rare species. In 2012 China's State Forestry Administration issued the national Implementation Plan for Rescuing and Conserving China's Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations, listing 120 plant species. Province-level conservation plans and lists followed.
To promote the conservation of Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations, the Ministry of Science and Technology granted funding for a National Key Programme: Survey and Germplasm Conservation of Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations in South-west China (grant number: 2017FY100100). The programme started in February 2017 and will last for 5 years, with funding of RMB 24.26 million (USD 3.52 million). Kunming Institute of Botany, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is leading this programme, with the participation of 13 other organizations.
The programme will include extensive field surveys of 231 species, including national- and province-level lists of Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations, in south-west China, where the geographical features are diverse and mountainous. The Mountains of South-west China biodiversity hotspot lies within this region. The survey area comprises 1.46 million km2, and includes Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, Chongqing, west Guangxi, and south-east Xizang Provinces. Although this is only 15% of China's land area, it includes more than 60% of China's flora and threatened plant species.
One requirement of the programme is that at least 70 species will be propagated and conserved ex situ in botanical gardens, and that the germplasm of at least 100 species will be collected and conserved in the Germplasm Bank of Wild Species at Kunming Institute of Botany. A database will be developed to collect and store survey information, and after the completion of the programme these data will be shared on the National Infrastructure Platform of Science and Technology, to support conservation and research. In addition, a germplasm collecting and conserving standard for Plant Species with Extremely Small Populations will be developed. It is anticipated that this programme will not only help to conserve the target species, but will also help to improve scientific research and investigations of the economic values of these plants.