Debao Cycad Conservation Project


Cycads are an ancient group of seed plants that originated over 280 million years ago.  They have no close living relatives and are thus considered to have a high priority in conservation from both a scientific and a biodiversity perspective (Norstog and Price 1997, Donaldson 2003).  Cycads are currently threatened globally with extinction.  Most of these threats originate from human activities and include destruction of wild populations for agriculture, strip mining, and the ornamental plant trade.

Cycas debaoensis in Fu Ping, Debao county, Guangxi, China
Cycas debaoensis in Fu Ping, Debao county, Guangxi, China


In 1997 a unique cycad was discovered in Guangxi Province, China and named Cycas debaoensis (Zhong and Chen 1997).  Unlike most cycads this one has leaflets that are divided three or four times and has exceptional potential as an ornamental plant (Holzman 2007).  Subsequent study has shown that this species has a limited distribution in 4 small populations in western Guangxi and 1 small population in eastern Yunnan Province (Xie et al. 2005).  Within one year of its discovery by science this species was severely reduced in numbers in the wild by plant collectors.  In Fu Ping, Debao county, Guangxi, the type locality for the species, ¾ of the original population of 2000 plants were dug out for sale (Ma et al. 2003).  Immediate conservation measures were clearly needed to prevent extinction.

In 1999, project managers Liu Nian and William Tang initiated a novel, international conservation project in Fu Ping which centered on the needs of the local people as well as Cycas debaoensis (Tang et al. 2004).  This plan focused on education of the local people and is based on the scientific study of the ecology of the plant and environment.

In the past, the main approach to cycad conservation involved the establishment of preserves that hoped to exclude people from cycad habitat, but in many cases local people easily bypassed barriers and this approach has proven to be completely unsuccessful (Donaldson 2003, personal communication). Conservation managers are becoming increasingly aware that human beings are an integral part of the ecosystems in which cycads exist and that people must be factored into any conservation plan for cycads.  To have the highest chance for success local villagers need to be involved in conservation plans to gain their commitment. The needs of human beings, particularly those living next to cycad populations, must be reconciled with the needs of the plants themselves.  In such conservation projects success relies on understanding the needs and behavior of human populations living near cycad populations as much as on an understanding of the biology of the plants themselves.

The Cycas debaoensis conservation project is based on previous ones conducted in Mexico (Vovides et al. 2002) and southern Africa (Stalmans 1995).  In these projects, local villagers harvested seeds from local cycad populations to grow as a crop.  After education and outreach to the villagers, they protected the wild plants as a source of seeds for agriculture and recognized the cycad as an important and valuable part of there heritage and environment.


Develop conservation project for Cycas debaoensis

This project continues to develop the Cycas debaoensis conservation plan as an international project.  It brings to China scientific and conservation expertise from 5 countries.  It will focus on education of local villagers, ecological study of the plant and its environment, and develop management techniques.  It is developing a conservation model new to China.  The benefit of this project is not just for cycad conservation, but it is envisaged that the techniques developed can be used elsewhere and with other endangered organisms in China and other parts of Asia.


  1. Conduct census of Cycas debaoensis at Fu Ping and create GPS map of its population
  2. Study and document ecology of Cycas debaoensis
    •  Pollination biology
    • Life-history
  3. Survey plant and animal fauna of the habitat
    • gymnosperms and angiosperms
    • insects, mollusks, amphibians, reptiles, and birds
  4. Establish website for the project at Cycad Specialist Group Website
    • post information on the project
    • summarizing results of floral and faunal surveys
    • post scientific papers on the plant and project


PARTICIPANTS (in alphabetical order):

      • Satie Airame, Ph.D.
        Marine Science Institute
        University of California
        Santa Barbara, CA 93106
      • Michael Calonje, M.S.
        Cycad Biologist
        Montgomery Botanical Center
        11901 Old Cutler Road
        Coral Gables, FL 33156
      • Jeff Chemnick, M.S.
        Ganna Walska Lotusland Foundation
        695 Ashley Road
        Santa Barbara, CA 93108
      • Timothy Gregory, Ph.D.
        Botanical Garden
        University of California
        Berkeley, CA 94720
      • Anders Lindström
        Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden
        Sattahip, Chonburi 20250
      • Liu Nian, M.S.
        Horticulture Dept.
        Zhongkai Agrotechnical College
        Guangzhou, Guangdong 510225
      • David G. Robinson, Ph.D.
        Department of Malacology
        Academy of Natural Sciences
        1900 Ben Franklin Parkway
        Philadelphia, PA  19103
      • Rita Singh, Ph.D.School of Basic and Applied Sciences
        GGS Indra Prastha University
        Kashmere Gate, Delhi 110006
      • Limei Deng Tang, M.S.
        65 Corydon Drive
        Miami, Florida 33166
      • William Tang, M.S.
        65 Corydon Drive
        Miami, Florida 33166
      • Irene Terry, Ph.D.
        Department of Biology
        University of Utah
        257 South 1400 East
        Salt Lake City, UT 84112-0840


Project leaders/Logistics

      • Liu Nian
      • William Tang
      • Anders Lindström

Cycad Biology

Cycad Pollination

      • William Tang
      • Rita Singh
      • Irene Terry

Survey of Fauna

Birds and Mammals

      • Jeff Chemnick
      • Satie Airame

Amphibians and Reptiles

      • Satie Airame
      • Timothy Gregory
      • Anders Lindström

Insects and Mollusks

      • David Robinson
      • William Tang
      • Irene Terry

Survey of Flora

      • Liu Nian
      • Anders Lindstrom
      • Timothy Gregory

Mapping of Cycad Population

      • Michael Calonje
      • All participants

Interpreter and Translator

      • Limei Deng Tang



Mapping of Cycas debaoensis plants will be based on Garmin GPSMAP 60csx hand-held GPS units.  This model allows for GPS reading trough tree canopy and has the resolution to distinguish the positions of plants within 3-4 meters apart. This information will be deposited in a computer that will be purchased at the Shang Ping Tun Cycad School/Forestry Office.  This information will be used to construct a map of the cycad population from which periodic surveys of the population can be conducted in the future.  The map will serve as a baseline for detecting future growth or decline of the population and allow assessment of the conservation project as it progresses.

All survey and identification of vertebrates (mammals, birds, and reptiles) will be conducted visually and with the aid of photography.  Survey and identification of plants, insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates requires that specimens be collected and preserved.  Plant specimens will be pressed and dried and deposited at Zhongkai Agrotechnical Collegeand the South China Botanical Garden.  Invertebrate specimens will be deposited at Zhongkai Agrotechnical College.


    • Donaldson, J. (2003)  Cycads Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge,UK.
    • Holzman, G.  (2007)  Cycas debaoensis. Cycad Newsletter 30(1):
    • Ma, Xiao-yan, Jian Shu-guang, Wu Mei, and Liu Nian.  (2003)  The population characters and conservation of Cycas debaoensis Y.C. Zhong et. C. J. Chen. Guihaia 23(2): 123-126.
    • Stalmans, M. (1995)  Cycad conservation and cultivation in KaNgwane. Pp. 51 in P. Vorster (ed.) Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Cycad Biology. Cycad Society of South Africa, Stellenbosch.
    • Tang, W., A. Lindström, and N. Liu  (2004)  Cycas debaoensis conservation project in China. Pp. 77-83 in A. Lindström (ed.) Proceedings of CYCAD2002. Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, Bangkok.
    • Tang, W., J. Donaldson, and T. Walters.  (2003)  A unifying framework for cycad conservation.  Pp. 54-57 in J. Donaldson (ed.) Cycads Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.
    • Vovides, A. P., C. Iglesias, M.A. Perez-Ferrera. J.G. Astorga, and U. Schippmann.  (2002)  Peasant nurseries: an effort to conserve cycads in Mexico. Cycad Newsletter 25(4): 3-7
    • Xie, Jianguang, Jian Shuguang, and Liu Nian  (2005)  Genetic variation in the endemic plant Cycas debaoensis on the basis of ISSR analysis. Australian Journal of Botany 53: 141-145.
    • Zhong, Y.C. and C.J. Chen  (1997)  Cycas debaoensis Y.C. Zhong et C.J, Chen – a new cycad from China.  Acta Phytotaxonomica Sinica 35:571.