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Ex situ Conservation, Propagation and Re-introduction of Endemic, Endangered and Vulnerable Plant Species from the Arid Lands of Chile

The purpose of this project is the ex-situ conservation, propagation and re-introduction of endemic and threatened species, focusing primarily on Chile’s Desert & Mediterranean Ecosystems.
Collecting in Chilean altiplano, 2013. Copyright RBG Kew / Kate Gold

Chile’s flora is under increasing threat from human pressures, particularly habitat conversion to agriculture and plantation forestry. The Agricultural Research Institute (INIA) has been working since 2002 with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and a range of national partners on a programme of ex-situ conservation, propagation and re-introduction of endemic and threatened species.

Seed samples are collected and banked in the INIA Base Seed Bank in Vicuña and duplicates are banked in the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB). Seeds from 1147 collections of more than 850 native species have been conserved at the MSB so far. Germination tests are carried out to assess the quality of the seed collections. Collections-based research helps to remove barriers to seed use and maximise storage potential.

Obtaining the required minimum amount of seeds for maintaining the genetic diversity of the ex situ collections can be very difficult for threatened and rare species, and propagation activities are needed to increase plant numbers. Propagation activities initially focused on five priority species of the desert and Mediterranean regions of Chile:  Dalea azurea (Leguminosae-Papilionoideae, Critically Endangered) and Placea lutea (Amaryllidaceae, Rare), have been successfully propagated by seed and vegetatively; Tigridia phillipiana (Iridaceae,  Rare), Adesmia resinosa (Leguminosae-Papilionoideae,  Vulnerable) and A. balsamica (Rare) have been successfully propagated by seed.

Integrated collaborations have been established between different organizations and stakeholders involved in plant conservation, e.g. with the National Botanic Garden at Viña del Mar, Chagual Botanic Garden, the University of La Serena, the University of Chile, the Southern University of Chile, the University of Talca and the National Forestry Corporation, (CONAF).

A national seed collecting network, established in 2005, publishes a regular bulletin to disseminate project activities.

Training and information dissemination are key project activities:

  • A project staff member spent a week in Ica, Perú, during April 2008, visiting the Darwin Initiative project Habitat restoration and sustainable use of southern Peruvian dry forest. The objective of the visit was to provide training and exchange seed collecting and plant propagation experience and also learn about the community based habitat restoration programme running in Ica.
  • An International Workshop on Propagation for Restoration, held in October 2008, shared effective approaches to propagation of wild plant species with 70 participants. Thirty participants attended an additional two days of intense propagation training lead by specialists including Dr Nigel Taylor. This was the first national training course for propagation of native Chilean plants. A Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew manual of horticultural techniques for the cultivation and conservation of threatened plant species was translated into Spanish and made available to trainees.
  • Propagation leaflets have been produced for 15 species.
  • More than 400 students and agriculturalists visit the Base Seed Bank and associated propagation facilities every year.
  • Training and technical support has been provided to Chilean partners on BRAHMS data entry, reporting and database maintenance.

With support from Arcadia Foundation, collecting was extended in  2013 to the southern native forests. Seed has been collected from Berberis valdiviana, an endemic rare shrub restricted to the Valdivian forest, and Leptocarpha rivularis, a shrub found only between the Maule Valley and the Lake District Regions.

Seed collecting in Chile’s Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth

Following unusually heavy and early rainfall in March 2015, Kew scientists rushed to assess the effect of this on local flora, and to collect samples of seeds to store in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank.

Key papers published since 2006

  • León-Lobos, P., A.C., Sandoval, G. Bolados, M. Rosas, D. Stark y K. Gold (2014). Manual de recolección y procesamiento de semillas de especies forestales. 96 p. Boletín INIA Nº 280. Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias, Centro Regional de Investigación Intihuasi (In press). 
  • Flores J, E. Jurado, L. Chapa-Vargas, A. Ceroni-Stuva, P. Dávila-Aranda, G. Galíndez, D. Gurvich, P. León-Lobos, C. Ordóñez, P. Ortega-Baes, N. Ramírez-Bullón, A. Sandoval, C.E. Seal, T. Ulian, H.W. Pritchard (2011). Seeds photoblastism and its relationship with some plant traits in 136 cacti taxa. Environmental and Experimental Botany 71: 79–88.
  • Guerrero P., Sandoval A., & León-Lobos P. (2007). The Effect Of Chilling on Seed Germination of Placea Species (Asparagales: Amaryllidaceae), a Genus Endemic to Central Chile. Gayana Botánica 64(1): 40-45.
  • León-Lobos P., Rosas M., Guerrero P., Sandoval A. & Way, M. (2008). Conservación ex situ de la flora de la región de Atacama: Métodos, experiencias y desafíos futuros. p. 347-356. In: Squeo, F., Arancio G. and Gutierrez J. (ed.). Libro Rojo de la flora nativa y de los sitios prioritarios para su conservacion: Región de Atacama. Ediciones Universidad de La Serena, La Serena, Chile.
  • León-Lobos P., Way M., Rosas M., Sandoval A. & Pritchard H.W. (2011). The contribution of the Millennium Seed Bank Project to ex situ plant conservation in Chile. Kew Bulletin 65: 595 – 601.
  • León-Lobos P, Way M., Davila-Aranda P., Lima-Junior M. (2011). The role of seed banks in the conservation of plant diversity and in ecological restoration in Latin America. Plant Ecology & Diversity. Accepted.

Project partners and collaborators

  • Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA)
  • National Botanic Garden at Viña del Mar
  • University of Chile
  • Southern University of Chile
  • University of Chile
  • University of Talca
  • Chagual Botanic Garden
  • National Forestry Corporation
  • University of La Serena

Project funders

  • Millennium Commission
  • Rio Tinto Exploration South America
  • Arcadia
  • Ministry of Environment
  • Instituto de Investigaciones Agropecuarias (INIA)

Annex material

INIA Native Seed Bank
Plant propagation at INIA
Bulletins from INIA

Conferences and workshops

  • Latin American Botanical Congress, La Serena, Chile (2010) Round table on the role of seed banks in support of plant conservation & habitat restoration in Latin America & Caribbean.
  • León-Lobos P, Rosas MR, Sandoval A & M Way (2010) Conservación de semillas de la flora de Chile y sus implicancias en restauración ecológica. En Simposio: Rol de los bancos de semillas en la conservación de la diversidad vegetal y restauración ecológica en América Latina. X Congreso Latinoamericano de Botánica, 4 al 10 de Octubre de 2010, La Serena Chile.
  • León-Lobos P, Stoll A, I Seguel (2010) Avances en la implementación de la Estrategia Global para la Conservación de Especies Vegetales en Chile. En Mesa Redonda: Estrategia Global de Conservación de Plantas (GSPC): Donde estamos en Latinoamerica? X Congreso Latinoamericano de Botánica, 4 al 10 de Octubre de 2010, La Serena Chile.
  • León Lobos P., M. Rosas, A. Sandoval and M. Way (2009). The contribution of the Millennium Seed Bank Project to Ex Situ Plant Diversity Conservation in Chile. In Plant conservation for the next decade: A celebration of Kew´s 250th anniversary. 12-16 October 2009. Londres, Reino Unido.
  • León, P., E. Salazar y M. Rosas (2008) Conservación ex situ de la diversidad vegetal en Chile: Avances y Desafios. En Simposio: Conservacion de la Biodiversidad y su regulacion en Chile. XX Reunión de la Sociedad de Botánica de Chile. Olmué, Chile, 25 al 27 de Octubre del 2008.