On September 16, 2010, the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) and the Ecological Society of America (ESA) issued an open letter urging the Russian government to preserve the Pavlovsk Experiment Station in Saint Petersburg. The facility is home to more than 5,000 distinct varieties of fruit trees and plans, most of which are extinct or endangered around the world. Many of these plant species have been cultivated at the site since 1926. Established by the internationally acclaimed Russian botanist, Nikolai Vavilov, the 200 acres which the Pavlovsk Experiment Station (part of the Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry) occupies are set to be auctioned off for real estate development in late September 2010.

In addition to urging action to preserve the Pavlovsk plant collections, the letter draws attention to the importance of natural science collections. “Biological collections, whether living or non-living, are vitally important to humanity,” stated Dr. Joseph Travis, president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences. “Natural science collections have provided insights into a wide variety of biological issues and pressing societal problems. These research centers help identify new food sources, develop treatments for disease and suggest how to control invasive pests. Natural science collections belong to the world and cannot be limited by geographic borders.”

Travis also encouraged governmental and non-governmental organizations to work collaboratively to ensure that we maintain and conserve the irreplaceable genetic information in natural science collections that has been collected by scientists over the past several hundred years. “For example, the proposed elimination of the Pavlovsk Experiment Station in Russia would close one of the doors on future innovations in Russian science and agriculture and, by doing so, hinder Russia’s ability to contribute to developing new food crops for the world.”

The complete letter is available at http://www.aibs.org/position-statements/20100916_aibs_esa_statem.html.