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Tasmania Opens Account with Seed Bank Project

18 May 2005

Tasmania has joined a world-wide program to save endangered wild plants by storing their seeds in a global bank.

The Millennium Seed Bank Project has operated from the heritage Royal Botanic Gardens in the United Kingdom since 2000.

Funded by the UK national lottery, the project aims to safeguard from extinction 24,000 plant species from around the world by 2010.

The program has already secured the future of virtually all the UK's native flowering plants.

Project head Robin Probert said the bank was to compliment other conservation efforts, such as reserves.

"It's a backup in case other efforts fail," he said yesterday at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart.

"With half of the world's wild plant species threatened with extinction this century, it's pressing business.

"We will be severely criticised in the future if we sit on our hands and do nothing."

Dr Probert visited Tasmania for two days as part of a two-week trip around Australia.

The Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens, Department of Primary Industry, Water and the Environment and the Herbarium are taking part in the collection of Tasmanian seeds.

Dr Probert said 450 Tasmanian wild plant species are facing extinction and needing urgent efforts to preserve seed matter. In less than three weeks, 29 species have been collected for the bank.

About 20,000 seeds from each species need to be collected to cover the full genetic diversity within each plant, he said.

Some plants are so rare that the seeds have to be collected gradually over a few years because taking 20,000 would threaten their viability in the wild.

The seeds are collected, dried and stored in a deep freeze to be used in the future. About 800 Tasmanian flowering plants are to be collected in total.

Dr Probert said partnerships with 21 countries ensures collectors can share research and knowledge into the storage and cultivation of seed material.

Some seeds will last for several decades, with others lasting for hundreds of years.

"Australian plants have some of the longest storage properties," he said.


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