Australian Seed Bank Partnership
Enhancing the conservation of Australia’s flora
Australia’s flora is considered ‘megadiverse’ with more than 21,000 terrestrial plant species occurring across many different bioregions. Many species exhibit a high degree of adaptation and specialisation, and about 84% of vascular plant species are endemic, occurring nowhere else in the world.
Australia is truly a land of contrasts. The extreme dryland of the "Red Centre" is a world away from the wet tropical forests of Northern Queensland and the alpine zones of the Snowy Mountains. This ancient landscape, having escaped the recent glacial ages, displays a mosaic of vegetation and habitats all very different from each other and has given rise to high levels of endemism across the continent. Biodiversity hotspots such as the Southwest Australia Ecoregion and the Forests of Eastern Australia are home to particularly high numbers of endemic species.
Biodiversity loss is increasing in Australia, with more than 6% of plant species currently nationally listed as threatened, a figure which increases to 10% when state and territory data are included. Key threatening processes include past and ongoing habitat loss, inappropriate fire regimes, competition from invasive weeds, and diseases caused by pathogens such as Phytophthora cinnamomi (Dieback) and Austropuccinia psidii (Myrtle Rust). Superimposed on these individual threatening processes, and of potentially greater impact, are the compounding effects of interactions between threats. For example, climate change, when combined with these threat processes, is predicted to substantially increase the magnitude of adverse impacts on the Australia flora.
Australia is making a major contribution to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) through the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP). The ASBP has a strategic focus on delivering a national effort that contributes to the conservation of Australia’s native plant diversity through collaborative and sustainable seed and germplasm collecting, banking and use, research, and knowledge sharing. ASBP is operating as a project under the Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens (CHABG) and has evolved into a major contributor to plant conservation on the continent.
The ASBP has a strategic plan with a focus on 4 key outcomes:
- Outcome 1: Growing our collections, research and restoration contributions;
- Outcome 2: Growing our investments in our facilities and people;
- Outcome 3: Improving engagement and partnerships with Australia’s First Nations Peoples;
- Outcome 4: Developing and sharing knowledge.
Since the start of the collaboration, Australia has contributed more than 11,500 seed collections to the MSB, representing over 8,700 taxa.
Several projects have been undertaken as a result of Kew’s collaboration with ASBP.
- C4: collecting plants that use C4 photosynthetic pathways, along with C3 sister species, to increase the provision of material for research into the genes and proteins resulting in C4 pathways.
- 1000 species: collecting and storing seed from 1000 native plant species which are valued for their endemic, endangered, or economic significance and which are not currently secured in Australia’s conservation seed banks. Target species include plants of value for food security (e.g., crop wild relatives), horticulture (e.g., new ornamental species), industry (e.g., pharmaceutically active species) and habitat restoration.
- Bushfire Recovery: In the wake of the devastating 2019-20 bushfires, the Partnership has worked hard to support flora recovery throughout Australia. Our bushfire projects are improving our knowledge and ability to conserve native plant species from fire-affected areas. The MSBP and the Garfield Weston Foundation were able to direct some additional funds in 2020 to the Partnership to support emergency actions after the unprecedented fire events throughout Australia in 2019–20. The fires burnt peatlands, rainforests, and alpine habitats, significantly impacting unique and diverse habitats and thousands of plant species. The long-term effects of the fires on these sensitive areas are still being determined, so funding has been used to undertake emergency rapid flora assessments and seed collections across a number of Australian states and territories.
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