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Helping to Meet the 1000 Species Project
Field work by members of the Partnership has led to rediscoveries of species thought to be extinct. This was the case with the Showy Violet in South Australia (Viola betonicifolia ssp betonicifolia)
Photo: South Australian Seed Conservation Centre
The 1000 Species Project is one of the major contributions to the Australian Seed Bank Partnership's work to build a safety net for Australia’s native plants. In collaboration with our Partners across Australia, this project is working to expand the number of native plants secured in Australia’s conservation seed banks. The focus is on collecting and storing seed from 1000 currently unrepresented species that are threatened with extinction, endemic (unique to Australia) or have economic significance.
The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London is providing financial assistance for the project via its Millennium Seed Bank Partnership. This funding provides a much-needed supplement for the resources required for seed collection which often takes place in out-of-the way sites that are costly to get to. Our Partners can apply for small grants to support their fieldwork and an independent committee of scientific experts assesses all applications to ensure best use is made of the funds.
During the 2012–13 collecting season, our Partners were able to collect seed from a diverse range of regions, including South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, the wheatbelt region of Western Australia and remote Norfolk Island; and from a wide range of habitats including alpine and sub-alpine, rainforest and heathland areas. Two major recent activities under the project have been the collecting expeditions made by the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre and by researchers from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Western Australia’s Threatened Flora Seed Centre who have been targeting species susceptible to Phytophthora cinnamomi, a root-rot fungus which causes dieback.
Field botanists from the South Australian Seed Conservation Centre are certainly well-travelled. With support from the Partnership’s funding program, between September 2012 and March 2013 they made five collecting trips across 7700 kilometres of the Eyre Peninsula in pursuit of a 10 rare and endemic priority species for seedbanking.
Despite the prevailing dry conditions which meant a near complete absence of several of the targets, collections of 13 species proved possible; mainly species unrepresented in conservation seed banks and 8 of which are threatened species. They included the nationally endangered chalky wattle Acacia cretacea, and the nationally vulnerable dandelion Taraxacum cygnorum, not collected in this area since being first recorded 40 years ago.
The field trips involved more than just seedbanking. Working with arid zone ecologists Dr Katherine Moseby and Dr John Read, owners of a private conservation property called Secret Rocks Nature Reserve, the team assisted with a translocation project for the chalky wattle. The project involved a burn trial at a translocation site using buried seed. The burn was a success and a number of experiments to measure soil temperature at different depths will help to identify the best conditions for germination.
While expanding the number of target species represented in seed banks through activities such as these is the current main focus of the 1000 Species Project, that is only the start. The project is also aiming to improve the genetic diversity of high priority species already banked via further collections from additional populations.
Dieback from Phytophthora is a major problem in forests and woodlands throughout Australia and a national threat abatement plan under Australian Government environment legislation guides efforts to control its impacts. In 2012 the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities provided the Partnership with $30 000 to collect and bank seeds of native plants threatened by Phytophthora and build the genetic diversity of these collections, as an insurance against further declines and to support threat abatement efforts. The focus was on Western Australia and Tasmania, which have the greatest proportion of species at risk—the target list of species included nine from Tasmania and fifteen from Western Australia, with the overall aim of seed banking fifteen native species via the project.
Collecting work is not without its challenges. Bushfires near Bicheno in Tasmania in January 2013 prevented a second sample of one target species being collected while seed failure and the inability to find other targets in their expected locations made it difficult to make comprehensive and genetically diverse collections. Despite these difficulties, the project was highly successful, delivering 38 collections of 20 species—significantly greater than the project target—including multiple collections of 8 of the 12 Western Australian ones. More work is needed though, as some of the collections still fall short of the seed numbers needed to support recovery actions over the longer-term. Seed quality can also be a problem—for example, the efforts in Tasmania under challenging conditions produced a huge collection of 23 900 seeds of the critically endangered heath Epacris graniticola, but less than a third were found to be viable when tested back in the laboratory.
The Australian Government’s $30 000 investment in this project has proved to be particularly good value. The remaining two-thirds of the total project cost took the form of in-kind contributions from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens and Western Australia’s Threatened Flora Seed Centre, with administration costs met by the Partnership and funded via the Australian National Botanic Gardens. A true collaborative effort!
The new seed collections will become an insurance policy for Australia’s native plants by providing a resource to build knowledge and understanding about Australian flora, which can be used to propagate plants and re-establish wild populations if needed in the future.