Global Tree Conservation Program

Global Tree Conservation Program Research

Leading and supporting conservation-motivated research at The Morton Arboretum and around the world

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Understanding species is key for successful conservation. The Global Tree Conservation Program collaborates with partners on relevant research in order to:

  • prioritize species with the highest conservation needs
  • identify knowledge and conservation gaps for rare species
  • conduct surveys and spatial analyses to determine where species occur
  • lead ecological and genetic studies, and
  • combine traditional ecological knowledge with science-based approaches.

With a comprehensive understanding of our target species, we can then address its most urgent conservation needs, such as restoring native populations in the wild or increasing its representation in botanical gardens.

Assessing Threats to Tree Species for IUCN Red Lists

In a rapidly changing world, it is crucial for conservationists, policymakers, and communities to have accurate, up-to-date information on the threats that face global plant diversity, since all life depends on plants.

Since 2015, The Morton Arboretum has worked in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the IUCN SSC Global Tree Specialist Group, and Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) to assess, review, contribute to, and facilitate IUCN Red List threat assessments for priority tree species globally.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the globally recognized and standardized system for assessing the extinction risk of the world’s plant, animal, and fungal species.

The Red Listing process is as follows:

  • Research: Gather scientific literature on a tree species, consult with experts, determine the most serious threats, determine the species’ range size and attributes.
  • Assess: Use the information generated by research to assess the species for threat status based on the categories and criteria set by IUCN.
  • Review: Consult a species expert for review of the threat assessment.
  • Submit: Submit the assessment to IUCN for approval.
  • Publish: Publish all approved assessments on the IUCN website.

Learn more about the IUCN Red List Assessments for Priority Tree Species >

Conservation Gap Analyses of At-Risk Tree Species

According to the Global Tree Assessment published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BCGI), one-third of all tree species are threatened with extinction. In the face of growing threats and with limited resources and time, it is critical to prioritize and coordinate conservation activities. One method used to facilitate these efforts is a conservation gap analysis.

A conservation gap analysis is a comprehensive evaluation of the successes and needs of the both the in situ (wild, within native habitat) and ex situ (within living collections or seed banks) populations. Gap analyses characterize current knowledge of threats, identify gaps in ex situ and and in situ conservation, highlight current conservation activities, and systematically identify priorities and future needs.

During the past decade, The Morton Arboretum has been at the forefront of developing and improving the gap analysis methodology in collaboration with many partners, including BGCI and the USDA Forest Service.

If you are interested in receiving training in conducting the conservation gap analysis methodology, please contact the Global Tree Conservation program at

Conservation Gap Analyses

Gap Analysis of Mesoamerican Oaks

This conservation gap analysis considers 59 threatened and data-deficient species of Mesoamerican oaks.
(Coming soon)

Gap Analysis of Southeast Asian Oaks

Anticipated to be released in 2025, this gap analysis focuses on Southeast Asia, a biodiversity hotspot of oak species, where there are more threatened oaks in this region than anywhere else in the world.
(Coming soon)

Using Spatial Analysis to Prioritize Areas for Conservation in Mexico

Mexico is the center of diversity for oaks (genus Quercus). Oaks are keystone species, playing a pivotal role across many habitats by providing multiple ecosystem services and economic benefits. However, more than 25% of oak species in the region are threatened with extinction.

In light of this urgent conservation challenge, understanding the spatial distribution of these species and identifying priority areas for conservation emerge as critical steps in safeguarding their existence. Yet, achieving this task necessitates a comprehensive understanding of species distribution patterns.

For many of the oak species, the lack of available data hinders efforts to accurately assess their distribution. To bridge this knowledge gap, the Global Tree Conservation Program is implementing species distribution models, known as SDMs, a widely adopted tool in ecology and conservation.

The research aims to delineate the potential distribution of oak species, and to apply a multicriteria analysis to prioritize areas for conservation. The multicriteria analysis offers a systematic approach, under this framework three criteria guide the prioritization of areas for conservation:

  1. Species richness—assessing the number of species in a given area
  2. Species rareness—assessing which areas hold rare species
  3. Species irreplaceability—assessing which areas hold irreplaceable species

The results of these analyses will be published and it will be available for stakeholders.

In addition to these efforts, the Global Tree Conservation Program is also developing a gap analysis methodology to help assess the conservation status of oak species.