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Building a unique collection of Australian native seeds for conservation and research

The Australian National Botanic Gardens National Seed Bank is home to a large and ever-increasing collection of Australian native seeds, and in particular holds significant collections from Australian alpine and Southern NSW tableland  grassland communities.

The National Seed Bank is an integral part of the ex situ collections of the Gardens and holds both short and long term collections. Short term seed collections support the living collections and nursery with stock of new and replacement native plant species for display, while long term conservation collections are stored to assist in safeguarding Australian native plants.

By conducting research the National Seed Bank team is extending the breadth of knowledge on how to collect, process, store and germinate native seeds as we increase the number of different plant species held in our bank.

The National Seed Bank holds more than 7,700 seed accessions (individual seed collections, normally stored in a single packet) from more than 4,000 different plant taxa, 139 of which are threatened species. The history of collections going back to the early 1960 s.

The National Seed Bank has focused seed collecting efforts on plant species endemic to the local alpine, subalpine and grasslands regions. Work has been fuelled by the increasing threat of climate change and human impact upon Australian alpine flora. Between 2007 and 2012, more than 451 alpine seed collections were successfully banked at the ANBG in partnership with researchers at the Australian National University (ANU), including approximately 148 species from 80+ genera ensuring we have future options for saving these species.

The functions of the National Seed Bank

  1. Conservation – to act as a long term seed bank particularly for the storage of rare and threatened flora.
  2. Research - to conduct research on the biology and ecology of seed produced by Australian native plants.
  3. Propagation - to supply seed for the production of seedlings for planting in the ANBG living collections.
  4. Supply - to supply seed to registered organizations for research through the plant release program.

The National Seed Bank consists of a fully equipped laboratory with four germination incubators, a drying room (15°C, 15% relative humidity), cleaning and packaging areas and two freezers (-21°C). The National Seed Bank is a vital ex situ conservation tool for preserving the diversity of Australian flora. Each seed holds all the genetic information needed to reproduce a plant. Seeds stored correctly in the National Seed Bank can remain viable for hundreds of years.

Many of the species that you see in the Gardens have been propagated from seed collected from the wild (in situ), and germinated in the National Seed Bank (ex situ). The provenance of all wild collected seed is comprehensively recorded and voucher specimens of the species are catalogued in the Australian National Herbarium.

Within the Gardens there is a high chance of hybridisation because so many similar species grow in close proximity of each other. For this reason seed collected in the Gardens is not used or stored in the Gardens National Seed Bank. Only wild sourced seed is currently stored for conservation.

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The Australian National Botanic Gardens National Seed Bank has a range of national and local partners that help us to deliver plant conservation objectives. Our capacity to meet the aims of ex situ conservation is greatly enhanced by these organisations and the people we work with.

We are members of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP). The ASBP is an Australia wide initiative aimed at a national effort to conserve Australia's native plant diversity through collaborative and sustainable seed collecting, banking, research and knowledge sharing for better outcomes in plant conservation and restoration.

The National Seed Bank provides facilities for Greening Australia's Seeds for Survival Project. This partnership was initiated following the 2003 Canberra bushfires to increase the diversity and availability of local native seeds to landholders and the ACT Government for regeneration.

The National Seed Bank has a team of volunteers sourced from the Friends of the ANBG that help with a variety of important tasks associated with the activity of running the National Seed Bank. Volunteers provide invaluable assistance with a range of tasks such as seed collection, seed cleaning, data management, and laboratory experiments.

The Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research (CANBR) is a partnership between the Director of National Parks, through the Australian National Botanic Gardens, and the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry. The Gardens National Seed Bank supports the CANBR’s research projects through providing seed material, storage for research materials and data on the collections.  The Australian National Herbarium, within the CANBR, verifies the voucher specimens associated with the seed collections.

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Staff at the National Seed Bank work individually and collaboratively with a range of partners on a number of special projects. Follow the links below to learn more about some of the current projects that we’re working on.

Australian Alpine Research

The Australian National University, the Australian National Botanic Gardens and the Friends of the Gardens are working collaboratively on research on plant conservation and adaptation to climate change as part of an Australian alpine seed ecology project funded by the Australian Research Council. The outcomes from this project have significantly increased the number of alpine species held in the National Seed Bank while at the same time, the accompanying research is helping to determine the impacts of climate change on the reproductive ecology and demography of alpine flora.

A symposium on Australian alpine plant research, conservation and management was held at the Gardens on 12 June 2014. The symposium shared the results of the ARC study with researchers, government representatives, and industry and restoration practitioners. Other alpine researchers from around the country also shared their research. The day ended with a panel discussion of issues and themes raised during the symposium, as well as challenges and opportunities for ongoing research, conservation and management in the Australian alps. A report on the symposium was released on 21 October 2014 and is available for download.

Grassy Woodlands

This is one of the local Australian Capital Territory (ACT) vegetation communities and is a highly threatened ecosystem.  This project aims to increase the genetic diversity and number of species being conserved, as well as looking to improve methods for restoration through an increased understanding of the seed biology and propagation of some of the key species from this community.

Endangered Alpine Bogs and Associated Fens

The ecological community of Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens is nationally listed as endangered and is threatened by a number of processes, such as wildfires which destroyed many bogs in the ACT and NSW in 2003. Bog communities provide a number of ecosystem services including breeding habitat for endangered Corroboree frogs, and water control and filtration at catchment sources. The plants growing in bogs and fens determine their structure and function; however, very little is known about their regeneration and reproduction. Seed germination is an important step in the life cycle of plants and the factors that drive germination in bog and fen communities are unknown and, therefore, of high research importance. This project aims to increase our understanding of the ecological drivers of seed germination in bogs and fens. With support from the ACT Government we are also ensuring that seeds of the species that form the endangered community are stored in conservation collections.

Rare and threatened flora of the ACT

The National Seed Bank is working together with the ACT Government to collect, germinate, and bank the seeds of four rare and threatened plants of the ACT. The species of interest are three orchids - Canberra Spider Orchid (Aracnorchis actensis), Tarengo Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum petilum), and Brindabella Midge Orchid (Corunstylis ectopa) and one native brassica called Mountain Cress (Drabastrum alpestre). This project aims to collect and secure seeds of these rare and threatened species, as well as understanding the germination requirements of each species to assist with their conservation or possible future translocations.

Christmas Island

The aim of this project is to bank seeds, and build an understanding of, the seed biology of Christmas Island flora to support plant conservation and restoration initiatives. Collection efforts will be supported by staff at Christmas Island National Park. Christmas Island was the site of a number of phosphate mines which have now closed. National Parks staff have been running a “Minesite to Forest Rehabilitation Program” since 2004 to  restore the local vegetation community. The seed bank will contribute to this work by investigating how to germinate problematic species so that a greater number of plant species are available for restoration. The project will run from 2012 to 2017.

Norfolk Island

Funded by the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, and coordinated by the ASBP, the ANBG’s contribution to the 1000 Species Project aims to initiate collection and research on Norfolk Island endemic, rare and threatened plant species. Norfolk Island flora is of high priority for ex situ conservation and all targeted species will be new to Australian and international conservation seed banks. We will be working with staff from the Norfolk Island National Park to enhance the possibility of restoration through appropriate seed banking methods. This project runs from 2012 to 2013.

Digital Images of Australian Native Seed

"Australian native seeds: a digital image library" was initiated with funding from the Australian Government s Australian Biological Resources Study (ABRS) Bush Blitz Program, which provided support for imaging of 1000 species of Australian native seed. Future aims include further imaging of seed accessions at the National Seed Bank along with collecting associated trait data to better understand our native seeds. All seed images are available under a creative commons licence (CC-BY) with attribution to the National Seed Bank and acknowledging support from ABRS Bush Blitz. More information on this project and the descriptions and standards for the seed traits measured is available in PDF format here.

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Requesting seed from the National Seed Bank

The National Seed Bank can supply seed for approved research (not for profit) projects at other botanic gardens, universities and similar institutions by permit application. Seed is not supplied to private individuals.
Applications for seed of species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act are assessed separately under an EPBC permit application.

Seed Bank databases

Native seed information and records can be found in our online database and from the associated following sources:
National Seed Bank
Atlas of Living Australia/ASBP Seed Knowledge Hub
Kew’s Seed Information Database
Millennium Seed Bank Data portal

National Seed Bank procedures

Read more about the National Seed Bank procedures for collecting, drying, cataloguing and storing seed. Protocols used to collect Alpine seed can be found at CSIRO Prometheus wiki

ANBG Seed Bank Contacts

Lydia Guja
Seed Conservation Biologist

Tom North
Seed Bank Manager

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