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Rainforest seed project
A project to save rainforest species, our most vulnerable resource.
Seedbanking 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 seedbanking procedure that requires tolerance to seed desiccation. Of particular concern, is the probability that many hundreds of the rainforest species have seeds that are sensitive to drying out (desiccation sensitive).
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 (2008-2011) through generous donations from Allianz and two benefactors: Tony Maxwell and Robyn Godlee.
We still need your donations to ensure the valuable work of this project continues.
The Rainforest Seed Project is part of SeedQuest NSW in partnership with Millennium Seed Bank, Kew, and contributes to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and Priority Action Statements / recovery plans for threatened species.
Key features of the project
The core objectives of the project are to:
Significance of saving our rainforests
Rainforests perform a vital role in maintaining the health of the planet by balancing greenhouse gases through oxygen release and carbon sequestration, and releasing water vapour to fall as rain. They contain a vast amount of biodiversity and provide habitats for animals and livelihoods for many indigenous people.
Rainforests under threats
An intergovernmental panel of 2500 leading world scientists predicts that at least one third of the world’s forested areas will be adversely affected by global warming. Rises in atmospheric temperatures of between 3o and 5oC are expected over the next 50 years and this will drive many species to extinction.
Rainforest species are often highly adapted to their habitats and are unable to adapt or move in response to these predicted changes. Global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires to which many rainforest species are poorly adapted. Unsustainable logging, urban and agricultural development into rainforest areas will further impact on rainforest viability.
Australian rainforests - diverse and vulnerable
Australian rainforests cover only 0.3 % of the land and contain more than 50 % of the plant biodiversity of our nation. Three significant World Heritage listed areas that occur on the east coast of Australia have large rainforest areas. In NSW and southern Queensland, the so-called ‘Gondwana Rainforests’ occur as a ‘discontinuous chain of islands in a sea of fire prone eucalypt and agricultural lands’. They contain more than 200 species of rare and threatened plants and animals.
Understanding rainforest species
Of particular concern, is the probability that many hundreds of the rainforest species have seeds that are sensitive to drying out (desiccation sensitive). This means that they cannot be stored using conventional techniques and makes off-site conservation difficult. Seeds of plants from drier habitats are adapted to being dried out and can therefore be stored at low temperatures for decades without losing viability. However, fleshy fruited species from wetter environments such as rainforests, may not be able to be stored this way and must be grown immediately or need to be stored cryogenically (at -196o C).
Uses of this research
Conducting further research on how the plants grow such as by manipulating plants to judge their ability to withstand stresses like temperature extremes, salinity, disease and a myriad of factors that cannot be tested in wild populations because of obvious threats to their continued survival
Reinforcing or replacing lost or vulnerable plants in the wild. This process, ‘translocation’, is a last ditch effort to maintain plants growing in their wild habitats, a radical step that has been used in many parts of the world. (Our aim is to ensure that species are managed so that this is not necessary, but sadly, fragile habitats and species are impacted by human activities. For example, there are only a few species of the food crop Macadamia and two of these are vulnerable and endangered. If we lose wild relatives, breeding and development of new plants will be severely impacted for the future).
It is strongly anticipated that this level of research will be taken to the next level during the life of the project as new avenues of enquiry reveal themselves.
>> View yearly reports for Rainforest Seed Project
Our amazing rainforest fruits and seeds. Photos: K. Hamilton