Australasian Plant Conservation
Originally published in Australasian Plant Conservation 17(4) March - May 2009, p 2-4
Building on AuSCaR: towards an Australian
Native Seed Bank partnership
Australian Seed Conservation and Research (Millennium Seed Bank-Australian Partners),
c/- Kings Park and Botanic Garden, West Perth, WA.
Representatives of the AuSCaR network at a meeting held in
Canberra in 2008.
Photo: James Wood
The Millenium Seed Bank (MSB) - Australian partners,
also known as Australian Seed Conservation and Research
(AuSCaR), have been working together since 2005 to help
conserve Australia's plant life. The network has largely
been facilitated and funded as part of Royal Botanic
Gardens, Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP).
In developing and maintaining conservation seed banks,
AuSCaR has been dealing in low volumes of native plant
seed for long-term storage of high value endemic, rare,
threatened or significant species. Stocks have been utilised
for research to resolve problems relating to storage,
germination and delivery of seed; these may be speciesspecific
or generic across families. Results are and have
been applied to improve the efficiency of, and the suite
of species included in, revegetation / restoration projects.
The seed banks are all involved in aiding translocations
and acting as a supplementary tool for recovery plans of
At a national level, AuSCaR has provided a network of
capacity building, training and collaborative scientific
research opportunities that its members can tap into.
At an international level, AuSCaR partners can share
knowledge and expertise with a global network of up to
123 organisations from the 54 countries that make up
The network has been working towards the achievement
of Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation by 2010: '60 per cent of threatened plant species in
accessible ex situ collections, preferably in the country of
origin, and 10 per cent of them included in recovery and
Persistent drought and the inherent nature of collecting
from rare or threatened species have impacted on collection
rates. Drought has restricted collections from target species
throughout the program, with most partners attempting
collections under the most severe conditions on record.
Review of Progress
At present seed from 21% of Australia's threatened plant
species is in storage, of which at least 10% have been used
for recovery and restoration. By the end of 2009, AuSCaR
partners aim to have collected and stored seed from around
a third of Australia's flora (about 8,000 species).
The AuSCaR partners provide seeds for duplicate storage
at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK. AuSCaR is
making a significant contribution towards Kew's MSBP
target of collecting and conserving 10% of the world's
flora by 2010.
The next phase of Kew's MSBP, from 2010 to 2020, will
see 25% of the world's flora secured in long-term storage.
Kew's MSBP also hopes to embark on an ambitious
program of species reintroduction and restoring damaged
habitats. This is an area in which AuSCaR's partners-
particularly in New South Wales, South Australia and
Western Australia-are leading the world, and have
valuable experience to share both within Australia and
with the rest of the MSBP's member countries.
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership is at a critical
stage in its life, with further funding (Aus$230 million)
needed in order to continue developing its vital work
and achieving its 2020 aims. AuSCaR itself has set
a goal of raising $29 million to help implement the
new national partnership.
AuSCaR: Member Activities
(states in alphabetical order)
New South Wales
Partner: NSW Seedbank, Royal Botanic Gardens
'SeedQuest NSW' was launched in 2003. Five years on,
seed from a third of the state's flora is being kept safe from
threats such as climate change in the NSW Seedbank and
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK.
One third of New South Wales' threatened plant species
are now held, and in 2008 the 1000th SeedQuest seed
collection (of the Downy wattle (Acacia pubescens), a
listed Vulnerable species) was achieved. Seed research has
increased during the project and includes seed dormancy
in groups such as Rutaceae, and accelerated seed ageing.
Seed batches were recently sent on a NASA space shuttle
flight for short-term storage on the International Space
Station. They included Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha),
Waratah (Telopea speciosissima), Flannel Flower (Actinotis
helianthi) and Wollemi Pine (Wollemia nobilis).
The NSW Seedbank last year launched the 'Australian
Rainforest Seed Project' which is investigating the biology
and conservation of rainforest species, whose seeds
are sensitive to drying out and not usually suitable for
More information: http://www.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/welcome_to_bgt/
Partner: The Department of Natural Resources,
Environment, The Arts and Sport (NRETAS) of the
Northern Territory Government.
The Kew partnership with the NT seed project began at
the end of 2004, with a total collection target of 550 new
species to Kew by the end of 2010. At the end of the fourth
year, seed from approximately 370 new species had been
collected for Kew. An additional 200 duplicate species
have also been conserved in the NT Seed Bank.
Approximately 70 of the existing collections are considered
priority collections due to the species being endemic, rare or
threatened at the national level (e.g. Ipomoea polpha subsp.
latzii, Eremophila sp. Rainbow Valley) and state and/or
regional levels. Other species have been collected due to
their indigenous or biological importance (e.g. Terminalia
carpentariae as a food source for the Vulnerable Arnhem
Rock Rat (Zyzomys maini)).
Collecting efforts have also involved working with
aboriginal communities, including rangers from the Docker
River Community. In 2007, the Docker River rangers
assisted in collecting approximately 25 species from their
lands (Petermann Aboriginal Land Trust), including the
Northern Territory endemic Rulingia luteiflora.
Partners: Brisbane Botanic Gardens; University of
Queensland; Griffith University; Greening Australia,
Queensland; Environmental Protection Agency; Australian
Centre for Mining and Engineering Research.
Queensland has the second highest number of threatened
species in Australia, and the 'Seeds for Life' project is
collecting and protecting seeds from 1000 of Queensland's
most vulnerable plant taxa. To date they have collected
over 600 species new to the Millennium Seed Bank.
Griffith University is a collaborating partner with
'SeedQuest NSW' in investigating the issues surrounding
the seed banking of rainforest species, under Royal Botanic
Gardens Foundation funding. The University of Queensland
has had joint funding with the Western Australian Botanic
Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA) to investigate issues
surrounding the use of native seed in mine site restoration.
More information: http://www.greeningaustralia.org.au
Partner: Botanic Gardens of Adelaide, Department for
Environment and Heritage.
The SACRED Seeds (South Australian Collection of Rare
and EnDangered Seeds) project is based at the Botanic
Gardens of Adelaide Seed Conservation Centre. Since the
project commenced in 2003, seeds have been collected from
more than 1500 (42%) of the state's native plant species,
including over 400 (50%) of its listed threatened taxa.
The Botanic Gardens of Adelaide was the first partner to
the MSBP to meet its collection target, and in December
2008 the 1010th species considered new to the collections
of the Millenium Seed Bank was handed over for
duplicate storage in the UK. The project has provided
an opportunity to rediscover species that were believed
to be extinct at both state and regional levels (Cullen
microcephalum, Oreomyrrhis eriopoda, Viola betonicifolia subsp. betonicifolia). It has also partnered with external
stakeholders to provide seedling material from 32 species
for inclusion in regional restoration and rehabilitation
More information: http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/botanicgardens/seed_
Partners: Nature Conservation Branch, Department of
Primary Industries and Water; Royal Tasmanian Botanic
Gardens and Tasmanian Herbarium.
Tasmania became part of Kew's MSBP in 2004. Its partners
aim to collect seed from 800 species, which is close to half
the total Tasmanian flora. The Tasmanian team recently
had their most successful field trip, collecting 82 species
over 8 days on the Central Plateau.
The team is also having success with one of the state's
rarest species, Davies' Waxflower (Phebalium daviesii),
for which only 23 plants exist in the wild. Through
a simple change to collection techniques, the Royal
Tasmanian Botanic Gardens' seed collection of Davies' Waxflower was boosted to 34,500 seeds in January 2009.
A collection of this size will enable the Gardens to gain an
understanding of the conditions and factors required for the
reproduction of this difficult-to-germinate species. Once
this is understood, the 34,500 seeds will have real value
in the species' long-term conservation, both in controlled
conditions at the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens and
hopefully in the wild.
More information: http://www.rtbg.tas.gov.au/tas_seed_conservation.html
Partners: The National Herbarium of Victoria; Department
of Sustainability and Environment.
The Victorian Conservation Seedbank has a particular focus
on some 450 of the state's endemic and most threatened
flora. They have played a key role in the delivery of the
Victorian Threatened Orchid Recovery Project, which
covered 80 species, saving four Critically Endangered
orchid species from extinction.
The Victorian Conservation Seed Bank has also played
a major part in the recovery plan for the 'Presumed
Extinct' Wimmera Rice-flower (Pimelea spinescens subsp. pubiflora).
More information: http://www.rbg.vic.gov.au/research_and_conservation/
Partners: Department of Environment and Conservation
(DEC); Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA).
Western Australia has been working with Kew since 2001
and is the original Australian partner in Kew's MSBP. By
2010 the Western Australia partners will have conserved
seed from 2,500 native species in the state. This total
already includes 70% of the state's threatened flora and
more than 10% will have been used in recovery programs.
Seedlings of the Critically Endangered Brown's Banksia
(Banksia brownii) derived from a climate change seed
conservation research project between DEC and Kew's
MSBP scientists were planted out in the wild in 2008.
Many of Australia's banksias are threatened in the wild due
to the fungal dieback disease Phytophthora cinnamomi.
The seedlings were found to be genetically distinct from
the remaining wild populations of B. brownii, highlighting
just how vital seed collection and conservation is when
plant conservationists cannot adequately maintain genetic
diversity of species in the wild in the long-term.
More information: https://www.dec.wa.gov.au/science-and-research/plantresearch/
The Future: a New Partnership
The launch of the National Strategy and Action Plan for the
Role of Australia's Botanic Gardens in Adapting to Climate
Change (the National Strategy) (http://www.anbg.gov.
au/anbg/botclimate/index.html) and its subsequent
endorsement by the Natural Resource Management
Ministerial Council has given new impetus to the work of
Australia's conservation seed banks. In December 2008,
the lead agencies and organisations involved in seed
banking met in Canberra to develop a coordinated strategy
aimed at delivering the first goal, 'A national safety net for
Australia's plant species' over the next ten years (2010-
Seventeen institutions and organisations are now in the
process of initiating a new partnership, the 'Australian
Seed Bank'. The organisations involved at this stage consist
of AuSCaR members, the Australian National Botanic
Gardens and Greening Australia's Florabank, although it is
hoped that the partnership will grow. This new partnership
is recognition of the need not only to develop a nationally
coordinated approach to seed banking and research, but also
to improve integration of conservation seed banking with
on-ground landscape restoration activities and priorities.
In addition to the need to safeguard genetic material in
conservation seed banks, future availability, supply and
management of seed will also be significant challenges for
biodiversity management at larger landscape scales. The
partners between them have the skills and knowledge to help
tackle these challenges. Through the broader perspective
of the new partnership it is hoped that the important work
of AuSCaR will form the building blocks for a new unified
vision supporting plant conservation.