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Safeguarding Australia’s flora through the Australian Seed Bank Partnership
Volume 9 Number 1 - January 2012
The partnership is an excellent example of how the Australian Government and not-for-profit sector can work together. The Australian Government supports this conservation programme through the Director of National Parks Statutory Agency (DNP). The DNP employs a National Coordinator to develop and maintain the Australian Seed Bank Partnership programme for CHABG Inc. and provides an operational budget, facilities and services for the Secretariat through the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
Table 1: Members of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership
Those Partners marked with an * have a representative on the management committee of CHABG Inc.
The Australian Seed Bank Partnership (formerly known as Australian Seed Conservation and Research AuSCaR) builds on the legacy of work and AUD$24 million investment from 2001-2010 undertaken as part of the Millennium Seed Bank Project (now Partnership). Through this work, the Australian Partners have a proven track record in seed conservation and germination research, and to date have safeguarded over 8,000 plant species across a network of conservation seed banks throughout Australia, and improved knowledge about germination for more than 2,800 of the species that have been banked. The Australian Seed Bank Partnership is CHABG Inc.’s main plant conservation programme.
A far-reaching impact through collaboration
Around 92% of Australia’s plant species are endemic. The loss, degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats threaten the native flora. Plants are less resilient to external pressures when the communities of which they are a part shrink, or when populations become isolated from each other. Currently, in Australia, more than 1,300 plant species and ecological communities are known to be compromised nationally and at risk of extinction. For each species listed as threatened, there are many more affected by loss of habitat and other hazards.
By evolving the AuSCaR network to the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP), under CHABG Inc., there has been a significant breakthrough in terms of bringing together expertise within institutions, governed under different state legislation, to tackle conservation at a national level through seed science and seed banking. ASBP programme is a commitment by CHABG Inc. to actively support the implementation of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2030 (Natural Resources Ministerial Council 2010:21-22) and provides a national safety net for Australia’s plant species through ex situ conservation that will provide options for the future use of these species and provide important insurance against biodiversity loss.
Conservation seed banking efforts from members of the ASBP have also been significant in assisting the Australian Government to fulfil its major international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity and more specifically, the Convention’s Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). The ongoing work of the Partners contributes to the GSPC’s objectives of understanding, documenting and recognising plant diversity and ensuring plant diversity is urgently and effectively conserved. Moreover, it contributes to the GSPC 2020 targets focusing on conservation and restoration such as Targets 4 and 8 which specify a minimum of 15% of each ecological region or vegetation type be secured through effective management and/or restoration, with at least 75% of threatened plant species in ex situ collections and at least 20% of those available for recovery and restoration programmes. The Partnership also makes significant contributions to such international efforts as the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.
The ASBP is anticipated to have ongoing far-reaching effects. The work provides an insurance against the loss of plant species in the wild. Furthermore, the seed bank collections, combined with the knowledge of their germination requirements and survival strategies provide an irreplaceable resource for government, non-government organisations, landholders and community groups who are actively conserving and restoring Australia’s rich and diverse landscapes.
What are the priorities?
1) A Knowledge Hub - Australia’s Virtual Seed Bank
2) National seed collection
One priority for the upcoming years is the 1,000 Species Project. This project brings together expertise from across the country; the Partners will collect and store seed from 1,000 native plant species which are valued for their endemic, endangered or economic significance. The focus will be on species not already collected and secured in Australia’s conservation seed banks.
A second priority is furthering seed science to support restoration activities through the Restoring Diversity Project. Understanding seed biology of Australia’s diverse flora is a barrier to the success of restoring diversity in broad scale landscapes, which is an Australian Government priority. Focusing collection development on priority ecosystems and building a body of knowledge through research and development undertaken by ASBP members will make a significant contribution to overcoming barriers to effective restoration, as well as effectively building a national seed collection for conservation.
Challenges to overcome
integrated conservation management is not always recognised or highly valued. A second challenge for CHABG Inc. is to increase understanding and demonstrating the value of seed science and seed banking for the conservation and sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity, as well as broad-scale landscape restoration. This will assist the greater integration of ex situ conservation into in situ conservation and restoration activities.
Current conservation funding programmes in Australia place emphasis on practical outcomes. Seed research and development of enabling technologies for landscape conservation and restoration programmes often fail to meet the criteria for these funding programmes. CHABG Inc.’s third challenge is to build greater support and recognition for seed banking, seed science and seed biology to facilitate greater resources for this work to be undertaken at the scale needed to make effective contributions to the conservation and restoration of Australia’s biodiversity.
Defining commonly used terms
Source: Offord, C.A. and Meagher, P.F. 2009. Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia: strategies and guidelines for developing, managing and utilising ex situ collections. Canberra: Australian Network of Plant Conservation Incorporated.
Dr Lucy A. Sutherland
BGjournal Vol 9 No 1 January 2012
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