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Uncovering seed traits to safeguard Australia's flora

Global leaders in seed science were brought together in October 2016 to share, apply and build their knowledge at the Seed Trait Workshop, which was hosted by our partners at Kings Park in Perth. The workshop was jointly organised by Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (Kings Park), the Australian National Botanic Gardens, CSIRO, and the University of Regensburg (Germany).

Holding the workshop was the first step towards building a global seed trait database. Unlike wood, leaf and functional traits, no regional or global database exists for seed traits. Important characteristics such as seed dormancy, germination and dispersal are important to answering ecological or evolutionary research questions. However, these are currently poorly understood or poorly recorded because no consistent method exists for collecting and disseminating this information.

Seed trait data can improve the delivery of conservation objectives through seed banking and ecological restoration, as well as provide unique insights into how seeds shape the recruitment and survival of plants and plant communities across landscapes and through time. The seed science community needs to invest in co-ordinated and collaborative projects to produce standardised methods for seed trait collection and to create databases to make this information universally accessible.

During the workshop, the seed scientists started work on a global handbook to identify, define and standardise measurement of seed traits to better understand plant ecology and evolution. This handbook will allow scientists around the world to share data about their ecosystems more effectively because it will have been collected in the same standardised way. During the workshop 117 seed traits were identified as having importance for ecological and evolutionary functions, indicating the significance of developing this area of research.

The global perspective of the workshop was reinforced by the attendance of researchers from eight different countries including Brazil, UK, Czech Republic, USA, Germany, Indonesia, Canada and Australia. The attendees specialised in many different disciplines relating to seed science. The seed trait data gathered will be useful across many fields of science, including seed ecology, functional and evolutionary analyses, community ecology, restoration, weed science and climate change research. A list of over 25 collaborative projects was compiled during the workshop, which the seed scientists hope to develop in the future.

The seed scientists who made the Seed Trait Workshop the great success that it was! (Photo: Dr Bryn Funnekotter, BGPA).

A public symposium was held as part of the workshop, to engage the community in the importance of seed science. A broad range of topics were covered, showcasing the work of leading seed scientists from across the globe.

Dr Ben Miller from BGPA presents at the very popular public symposium. This forum provided the community with a chance to engage with seed science concepts and cutting-edge international research (Photo: Lydia Guja, CANBR).