Prioritising plant species for conservation
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is the world’s most ambitious plant conservation initiative. By 2020, it aims to have seeds from 25% of Earth’s seed-bearing flora saved for posterity. Doing so acts as an insurance policy.
Analysing seeds at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst, West Sussex.
If a plant species becomes extinct in the wild, the opportunity remains to reintroduce stock back to the plant’s native habitat by propagating the stored seeds. But how do Kew’s scientists choose which plants to prioritise?
Targeting vulnerable areas and habitats
These include the world's drylands (home to a billion of the world’s poorest people), islands, coastal areas and mountains.
Identifying plant species at risk
"Endemic" species are limited to a discrete geographical area, often within one country and are therefore more vulnerable to threats. For example in Madagascar, where there is approximately 80% endemism among plant species, extinctions are especially likely given the few localities in which many species occur, the relatively small areas of protected land and the slash-and-burn agricultural practices prevalent in rural areas.
At present, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership works with 123 organisations in 54 countries around the world. Decisions about which plant species to prioritise are usually taken by the partner countries themselves. However, if the country concerned has insufficient data to do this itself, Kew's science teams will help.
The team consults specimens from Kew and other herbaria, and literature resources to prioritise species for conservation. Information collated is then analysed using technologies such as GIS (geographical information systems). Staff map locations of herbarium specimens, estimate distribution patterns and pinpoint likely flowering and fruiting periods (when seeds can be gathered). They also use this data to get a preliminary idea of how threatened each plant species is. Species found to be at high risk of extinction are assessed more fully using the Red List criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Species Targeting Programme has worked with partners to target species for conservation in Botswana, Burkina Faso, Chile, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Republic of South Africa, and Tanzania.
Information on each nation’s most threatened species is presented in a collection guide. These are made available to Millennium Seed Bank partners so they can efficiently plan itineraries for seed-collecting expeditions. Guides recently completed include Trees of Botswana, Threatened Taxa of Albany (South Africa) and the Malawi Red Data List.
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Get involved - Adopt a Seed, Save a Species
We have successfully banked 10% of the world's wild plant species and we have set our sights on saving 25% by 2020.
Without plants there could be no life on earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction. Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.
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