Kew's Millennium Seed Bank partnership – The Northern Territory of Australia
Seed banks provide an insurance policy against the extinction of plants in the wild and options for their future use. This is good news for our conservation efforts in the Northern Territory of Australia, one of the seven Australian States and Territories in which we work.
Michiel van Slageren and Alice Quarmby collecting Melaleuca seeds (Image: RBG Kew)
Millennium Seed Bank partnership activities have benefited Aboriginal communities, allowing young community members to get out in their land and learn about seed collecting and its use as a conservation technique. Collections made on their lands also meant that their local species have been protected.Alice Quarmby, Seed Bank Curator, NRETAS
Plant life is under threat in the Northern Territory of Australia
While the flora in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia is generally intact various threatening processes are under way.
These are mainly from habitat degradation as a result of grazing, weed infestation and inappropriate fire regimes. Added to this in the longer term are the threats of climate change, likely to cause further desertification, and to some extent of mining operations as well.
Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership in the Northern Territory presents a unique chance to conserve a significant part of it, and carry out seed research and conservation before the threats start to impact more seriously.
Environment and climate
The Northern Territory of Australia covers a wide area and comprises two distinct areas.
The northernmost one third, known as the ‘Top End’ has a humid-tropical climate, whereas the southern two thirds is arid to semi-arid and features terrain that is typical of the Australian ‘outback’, consisting of mountains, deserts and steppes.
Though initially focusing on the arid southern part, our project is now gradually paying more attention to the humid north where a rich flora still exists in a relatively smaller area.
Saving seeds for the future in the Northern Territory of Australia
Northern Territory joined Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership in 2004 with the aim of supporting plant conservation by targeting the ex situ conservation of 550 species. Our six year project is complementing existing in situ plant conservation by increased collection of seeds of the targeted plants and has three main objectives:
- establish a well-documented collection of seed of wild native Northern Territory plant species based in Alice Springs and, in parallel, at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place, West Sussex
- develop a programme to research germination and long-term storage requirements for the seed of collected species
- strengthen the capacity of the Northern Territory government to maintain an effective ex situ program after the joint project ends by creating staff training and development opportunities
Northern Territory has a flora of around 4,200 plant species including 635 which are endemic (found only in this region). Our project focuses on these endemic plant species and the 476 threatened species.
Once collected and conserved, research on selected plant species will then focus on, among others, development of methods to overcome dormancy, soil seed bank studies, and documentation of morphological seed features and of indigenous knowledge. Find out how Kew's research is helping to further our understanding of seed conservation and improve seed banking worldwide.
The project team will extensively engage with the Aboriginal communities who form a significant part of the inhabitants of the Northern Territory. It is expected that students from, among others, the Charles Darwin University in Darwin will be engaged in the research programme. In addition, over the course of the project we expect to discover and conserve several species that are new to science.
Our main partner in the Northern Territory is the Department of Natural Resources, Environment and the Arts (NRETA), who have provided the infrastructure to establish a Seed Bank at the Alice Springs Desert Park (ASDP) as well as hosting the personnel involved and helping the project through contributions in kind. Indispensable assistance is provided by the taxonomists of the Northern Territory Herbarium branch at the Alice Springs Desert Park.
Discover more about our work in Australia...
Our team in Northern Territory
- Michiel Van Slageren, International Projects Co-ordinator
- Alice Quarmby, project manager
- Debbie Randall, curator
Our partners in Northern Territory
- Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport (NRETAS) of the Northern Territory Government
- Northern Territory Herbarium
Plant stories from the Northern Territory
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