- Evolutionary ecology research
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Rainforest Seed project reports
Rainforest Seed Project 2011-2012
Cathy Offord - Manager Horticultural Research and Graeme Errington - Seedbank Officer for Rainforest Project
The Rainforest Seed Conservation Program marks a new phase in our focus on the conservation of Australia’s flora. We have achieved a high level of success in collecting and storing seed from species occurring in NSW, with more than 50% of NSW species represented in the Seedbank. Techniques for the collection and storage of seed from dry environments are well developed and effective as a long term conservation strategy and the collection of seed from these ‘orthodox’ species is ongoing. Many of the seeds of species from wetter environments such as rainforests are not suited to drying and freezing and are termed ‘recalcitrant’. Critical to maximising seedbanking efforts, we are screening species for orthodoxy and developing alternative ex situ conservation techniques for recalcitrant species.
Although many rainforest plants have seed that is not tolerant of desiccation, there may be as many as 50% of species that and can be classified as orthodox. Recent research by Dr Kim Hamilton and Dr Cathy Offord assessed a number of plant characteristics for predictive value of seed desiccation tolerance. The Rainforest Seed Conservation Program involves the use of the results of this research to assist in the identification of seed that can be collected and stored. Seed from species for which the desiccation sensitivity is not known will be collected and assayed and this information will contribute to the ongoing international research into the seed biology of rainforest flora. As with the collection of orthodox species, there will be a particular focus on the collection of seed from threatened species.
This program aims, over the next three years to collect, assess and store 145 species of rainforest plants. During the past collecting season 58 collections of rainforest species were made, 19 collections were placed directly in storage and the remainder are being further assessed.
A number of collection trips were conducted across the year to take advantage of the extended flowering and fruiting of rainforest species. The ripening of fruits in orthodox species tends to occur as a peak during the late spring and early summer period, whereas the flowering and fruiting in rainforest species has a more even spread across the seasons extending the opportunities for collection and allowing for timely processing of the deteriorating fruits. The program will focus on the far north coast of New South Wales with its high level of diversity, including locations such as the cool-temperate rainforest of the Border Ranges and the remnants of Critically Endangered Lowland Rainforest of Subtropical Australia. Other important areas include the dry rainforests of western NSW, the subtropical rainforest of the Dorrigo area, and littoral rainforests along the coast
Rainforest Seed Project 2010-2011
The rainforest regions of Australia are relatively small in size but are estimated to contain more than 50% of Australia’s biodiversity. Under carefully controlled conditions, most Australian seeds can be conserved for decades and in many cases, centuries, however plants from rainforests and wetter areas are very difficult to dry and therefore store. The Rainforest Seed Project systematically appraised the potential for storage of seed of Australian rainforest species. It is not possible to simply look at the seeds of a rainforest species and determine whether or not it may be stored. Prior to this project seed storage of rainforest species has been a matter of trial and error with a paucity of reliable information.
This project is the first important step in understanding which rainforest plants can be stored as seed, and to offer alternatives for those that cannot. Through this process this we will contribute to the sum of knowledge about how to conserve our vulnerable flora. Understanding rainforest seed biology does not stop at seed storage. Important information generated by the project on specific seed germination conditions and requirements can contribute to management of rainforests species in their natural habitats.
The broader scope of this project has international significance as we are contributing information to a global effort to understand the seed biology of rainforest flora being coordinated by colleagues at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. We are also increasingly delivering seed conservation training in Australia and in south-east Asia.
In the NSW Seedbank, we now have representatives of around 40% of the State’s species. The Rainforest Seed Project is key to our ten year goal to store and preserve all NSW plant species, including rainforest species, primarily as seed, or in tissue culture, cryostorage and as living plants in our collections. In our program:
Rainforest Seed Project 2008-2009
Conserving Rainforest Seeds
One of the key risks of projected climate change is its effect on Australian rainforests. Climate change is predicted to interact with other threats, such as weeds and habitat fragmentation, in some of the most vulnerable environments like the Gondwana Rainforests of Australian and the Wet Tropics. Seed banking is a cost effective way of conserving vulnerable species outside of their natural habitat, but not all species, especially many rainforest species, can survive the seed banking procedure that requires tolerance to seed desiccation. To contribute to the conservation of threatened species in the wild, the Royal Botanic Gardens Foundation has funded the Rainforest Seed Project for 3 years (May 2008 - May 2011) through generous donations from Allianz, Tony Maxwell and Robyn Godlee.
The Rainforest Seed Project investigates the seed biology, particularly desiccation sensitivity, of eastern Australian rainforest species with the aim of contributing to in situ conservation. The seed biology data will also be analysed to increase our understanding of ecological correlates of seed desiccation sensitivity for predictive use in rainforest species. For species identified to have seed desiccation sensitivity, in situ conservation and technology development (e.g. cryostorage) needs to be prioritised. The findings of the project will be collated into a readily accessible database for use by scientists and restoration practitioners to inform their work (e.g. revegetation and seed banking).
The project objectives are to:
The Rainforest Seed Project is part of SeedQuest NSW based at the Australian Botanic Garden Mount Annan (Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust , Sydney) in partnership with Millennium Seed Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and contributes to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and Priority Action Statements / recovery plans for threatened species. To date seed biology testing has been investigated for 75 significant and/or threatened rainforest species from 30 plant families. In addition, about 20 newspaper articles, 5 radio interviews (Dr Tim Entwisle), 2 magazine articles, 1 ABC website ‘Scribbly Gum’ article, 4 papers, 1 book chapter and 4 conference presentations have disseminated the objectives and acknowledged the importance of this project and sponsor contribution.
All images: Graeme Errington
Thermal analysis of phase transitions in seeds, using differential scanning calorimetry, to determine optimal moisture content for seed cryopreservation.