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Australasian Plant Conservation

Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 17(4) March - May 2009, p 2-4

Building on AuSCaR: towards an Australian Native Seed Bank partnership

Tom North
Australian Seed Conservation and Research (Millennium Seed Bank-Australian Partners), c/- Kings Park and Botanic Garden, West Perth, WA.
Email: thomas.north@bgpa.wa.gov.au

Representatives of the AuSCaR network at a meeting held in Canberra in 2008.
Photo: James Wood


The Millenium Seed Bank (MSB) - Australian partners, also known as Australian Seed Conservation and Research (AuSCaR), have been working together since 2005 to help conserve Australia's plant life. The network has largely been facilitated and funded as part of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP).

In developing and maintaining conservation seed banks, AuSCaR has been dealing in low volumes of native plant seed for long-term storage of high value endemic, rare, threatened or significant species. Stocks have been utilised for research to resolve problems relating to storage, germination and delivery of seed; these may be speciesspecific or generic across families. Results are and have been applied to improve the efficiency of, and the suite of species included in, revegetation / restoration projects. The seed banks are all involved in aiding translocations and acting as a supplementary tool for recovery plans of threatened species.

At a national level, AuSCaR has provided a network of capacity building, training and collaborative scientific research opportunities that its members can tap into. At an international level, AuSCaR partners can share knowledge and expertise with a global network of up to 123 organisations from the 54 countries that make up Kew's MSBP.

The network has been working towards the achievement of Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation by 2010: '60 per cent of threatened plant species in accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and 10 per cent of them included in recovery and restoration programs'.

Persistent drought and the inherent nature of collecting from rare or threatened species have impacted on collection rates. Drought has restricted collections from target species throughout the program, with most partners attempting collections under the most severe conditions on record.

Review of Progress

At present seed from 21% of Australia's threatened plant species is in storage, of which at least 10% have been used for recovery and restoration. By the end of 2009, AuSCaR partners aim to have collected and stored seed from around a third of Australia's flora (about 8,000 species). The AuSCaR partners provide seeds for duplicate storage at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK. AuSCaR is making a significant contribution towards Kew's MSBP target of collecting and conserving 10% of the world's flora by 2010.

The next phase of Kew's MSBP, from 2010 to 2020, will see 25% of the world's flora secured in long-term storage. Kew's MSBP also hopes to embark on an ambitious program of species reintroduction and restoring damaged habitats. This is an area in which AuSCaR's partners- particularly in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia-are leading the world, and have valuable experience to share both within Australia and with the rest of the MSBP's member countries.

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is at a critical stage in its life, with further funding (Aus$230 million) needed in order to continue developing its vital work and achieving its 2020 aims. AuSCaR itself has set a goal of raising $29 million to help implement the new national partnership.

AuSCaR: Member Activities (states in alphabetical order)

New South Wales

Partner: NSW Seedbank, Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, Sydney.

'SeedQuest NSW' was launched in 2003. Five years on, seed from a third of the state's flora is being kept safe from threats such as climate change in the NSW Seedbank and Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK.

One third of New South Wales' threatened plant species are now held, and in 2008 the 1000th SeedQuest seed collection (of the Downy wattle (Acacia pubescens), a listed Vulnerable species) was achieved. Seed research has increased during the project and includes seed dormancy in groups such as Rutaceae, and accelerated seed ageing. Seed batches were recently sent on a NASA space shuttle flight for short-term storage on the International Space Station. They included Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha), Waratah (Telopea speciosissima), Flannel Flower (Actinotis helianthi) and Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis).

The NSW Seedbank last year launched the 'Australian Rainforest Seed Project' which is investigating the biology and conservation of rainforest species, whose seeds are sensitive to drying out and not usually suitable for seed banking.

More information: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/ feature_stories/nsw_seedbank2/seedquest_nsw

Northern Territory

Partner: The Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) of the Northern Territory Government.

The Kew partnership with the NT seed project began at the end of 2004, with a total collection target of 550 new species to Kew by the end of 2010. At the end of the fourth year, seed from approximately 370 new species had been collected for Kew. An additional 200 duplicate species have also been conserved in the NT Seed Bank.

Approximately 70 of the existing collections are considered priority collections due to the species being endemic, rare or threatened at the national level (e.g. Ipomoea polpha subsp. latzii, Eremophila sp. Rainbow Valley) and state and/or regional levels. Other species have been collected due to their indigenous or biological importance (e.g. Terminalia carpentariae as a food source for the Vulnerable Arnhem Rock Rat (Zyzomys maini)).

Collecting efforts have also involved working with aboriginal communities, including rangers from the Docker River Community. In 2007, the Docker River rangers assisted in collecting approximately 25 species from their lands (Petermann Aboriginal Land Trust), including the Northern Territory endemic Rulingia luteiflora.

More information: http://www.nt.gov.au/nreta/


Partners: Brisbane Botanic Gardens; University of Queensland; Griffith University; Greening Australia, Queensland; Environmental Protection Agency; Australian Centre for Mining and Engineering Research. Queensland has the second highest number of threatened species in Australia, and the 'Seeds for Life' project is collecting and protecting seeds from 1000 of Queensland's most vulnerable plant taxa. To date they have collected over 600 species new to the Millennium Seed Bank.

Griffith University is a collaborating partner with 'SeedQuest NSW' in investigating the issues surrounding the seed banking of rainforest species, under Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation funding. The University of Queensland has had joint funding with the Western Australian Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA) to investigate issues surrounding the use of native seed in mine site restoration.

More information: http://www.greeningaustralia.org.au

South Australia

Partner: Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, Department for Environment and Heritage.

The SACRED Seeds (South Australian Collection of Rare and EnDangered Seeds) project is based at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide Seed Conservation Centre. Since the project commenced in 2003, seeds have been collected from more than 1500 (42%) of the state's native plant species, including over 400 (50%) of its listed threatened taxa.

The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide was the first partner to the MSBP to meet its collection target, and in December 2008 the 1010th species considered new to the collections of the Millenium Seed Bank was handed over for duplicate storage in the UK. The project has provided an opportunity to rediscover species that were believed to be extinct at both state and regional levels (Cullen microcephalum, Oreomyrrhis eriopoda, Viola betonicifolia subsp. betonicifolia). It has also partnered with external stakeholders to provide seedling material from 32 species for inclusion in regional restoration and rehabilitation projects.

More information: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/seed_ conservation.html


Partners: Nature Conservation Branch, Department of Primary Industries and Water; Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens and Tasmanian Herbarium. Tasmania became part of Kew's MSBP in 2004. Its partners aim to collect seed from 800 species, which is close to half the total Tasmanian flora. The Tasmanian team recently had their most successful field trip, collecting 82 species over 8 days on the Central Plateau.

The team is also having success with one of the state's rarest species, Davies' Waxflower (Phebalium daviesii), for which only 23 plants exist in the wild. Through a simple change to collection techniques, the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens' seed collection of Davies' Waxflower was boosted to 34,500 seeds in January 2009. A collection of this size will enable the Gardens to gain an understanding of the conditions and factors required for the reproduction of this difficult-to-germinate species. Once this is understood, the 34,500 seeds will have real value in the species' long-term conservation, both in controlled conditions at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens and hopefully in the wild.

More information: http://www.rtbg.tas.gov.au/tas_seed_conservation.html


Partners: The National Herbarium of Victoria; Department of Sustainability and Environment. The Victorian Conservation Seedbank has a particular focus on some 450 of the state's endemic and most threatened flora. They have played a key role in the delivery of the Victorian Threatened Orchid Recovery Project, which covered 80 species, saving four Critically Endangered orchid species from extinction. The Victorian Conservation Seed Bank has also played a major part in the recovery plan for the 'Presumed Extinct' Wimmera Rice-flower (Pimelea spinescens subsp. pubiflora).

More information: http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/research_and_conservation/ seedbank

Western Australia

Partners: Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC); Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA). Western Australia has been working with Kew since 2001 and is the original Australian partner in Kew's MSBP. By 2010 the Western Australia partners will have conserved seed from 2,500 native species in the state. This total already includes 70% of the state's threatened flora and more than 10% will have been used in recovery programs. Seedlings of the Critically Endangered Brown's Banksia (Banksia brownii) derived from a climate change seed conservation research project between DEC and Kew's MSBP scientists were planted out in the wild in 2008. Many of Australia's banksias are threatened in the wild due to the fungal dieback disease Phytophthora cinnamomi. The seedlings were found to be genetically distinct from the remaining wild populations of B. brownii, highlighting just how vital seed collection and conservation is when plant conservationists cannot adequately maintain genetic diversity of species in the wild in the long-term.

More information: https://www.dec.wa.gov.au/science-and-research/plantresearch/ seed-banking-for-biodiversity-conservation/thethreatened- flora-seed-centre.html

The Future: a New Partnership

The launch of the National Strategy and Action Plan for the Role of Australia's Botanic Gardens in Adapting to Climate Change (the National Strategy) (http://www.anbg.gov. au/anbg/botclimate/index.html) and its subsequent endorsement by the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council has given new impetus to the work of Australia's conservation seed banks. In December 2008, the lead agencies and organisations involved in seed banking met in Canberra to develop a coordinated strategy aimed at delivering the first goal, 'A national safety net for Australia's plant species' over the next ten years (2010- 2019).

Seventeen institutions and organisations are now in the process of initiating a new partnership, the 'Australian Seed Bank'. The organisations involved at this stage consist of AuSCaR members, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and Greening Australia's Florabank, although it is hoped that the partnership will grow. This new partnership is recognition of the need not only to develop a nationally coordinated approach to seed banking and research, but also to improve integration of conservation seed banking with on-ground landscape restoration activities and priorities.

In addition to the need to safeguard genetic material in conservation seed banks, future availability, supply and management of seed will also be significant challenges for biodiversity management at larger landscape scales. The partners between them have the skills and knowledge to help tackle these challenges. Through the broader perspective of the new partnership it is hoped that the important work of AuSCaR will form the building blocks for a new unified vision supporting plant conservation.