Collecting the flora of New Zealand
New Zealand has been internationally recognised as a 'biodiversity hotspot' and seed banking in New Zealand contributes to plant conservation on a global scale.
The Kowhai flower is commonly considered to be the national flower of New Zealand. (Photo: Alan Vernon/Wikimedia Commons)
New Zealand is one of the 25 world areas hosting an extraordinary concentration of endemic species and at the same time undergoing exceptional loss of habitat [Ref. 1]. The highly diverse vascular flora of New Zealand, including more than 2,400 species with more than 80% endemism, is increasingly under threat and is therefore a priority for plant conservation.
Threats to plant biodiversity in New Zealand
Currently, major threats to New Zealand’s plant diversity are habitat destruction and invasive pests, pathogens and weeds. It is estimated that, before humans arrived in New Zealand, forest once covered 85% of the land while today much of the native ecosystems have been converted to farmland and only 23% of the land is covered by forest [Ref. 2].
The exotic species that have been introduced to New Zealand are another main driver of biodiversity loss. The isolation under which the native flora has evolved means that these species are particularly vulnerable to new competitors and predators. Seed banking offers an insurance policy against the loss of species in their natural habitat and provides options for their reintroduction into the wild and future use.
Saving seeds to preserve New Zealand plant diversity
In 2012, Kew established a formal partnership with the New Zealand Plant Conservation Network to contribute to the study and conservation of the native flora of New Zealand. As part of this partnership Kew is supporting a recently formed New Zealand Seed Bank group to collect and conserve seeds of the native flora. Capacity building includes training in seed collecting and sharing expertise and experience in building a long-term seed conservation programme.