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Saving Australia’s threatened rainforests
A vital plant conservation project designed to protect critically threatened rainforest species from extinction will go ahead through $600,000 funding from private supporters.
New South Wales Environment Minister Robyn Parker recently announced that funding from the United Kingdom-based Arcadia Fund and other supporters has allowed Australian Rainforest Seed Project scientists to develop a program to protect plant cells and tissue by storing samples long-term in liquid nitrogen.
Ms Parker said entire species of difficult-to-store rainforest plants were under threat, particularly gums and their relatives, from the invasive fungus myrtle rust.‘
However I am pleased to announce that sponsorship has allowed the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust’s Australian Rainforest Seed Project to focus attention on limiting the impact of the disease and other threats to plant biodiversity,’ Ms Parker said.
Myrtle rust can completely shut down a plants’ seed production, as can other diseases, and at least 30 per cent of Australia’s rainforest species’ seeds are simply not viable for storing because their moisture content is too high.
‘This problem led Australian Rainforest Seed Project scientists to develop a program using tissue culture and cryopreservation that involves collecting fresh vegetation before extracting plant cells and small sections of plant tissue to store long-term in liquid nitrogen.
‘This technique is a first for Australia and the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan is one of the few places in the world where these special techniques will be extensively used on native rainforest flora.
‘This will help protect precious native rainforest and plant species currently under threat of extinction.’
Ms Parker said Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world with more than 50 per cent of our rich diversity currently existing in rainforests - yet rainforests span only five per cent of the country’s land area.
The fungus myrtle rust, which produces masses of powdery yellow spores on plants, originated in South America and spread rapidly in Australia via airborne spores.
It is now found from Victoria to far north Queensland after it was identified just two years ago on the New South Wales Central Coast.
Lead scientist on the Australian Rainforest Seed Project, Graeme Errington, said without urgent action myrtle rust could wipe out entire species.
‘Myrtle rust affects the Myrtaceae family that includes the bottle brush, tea tree, eucalypt and a significant number of rainforest species such as Rhodeamnia,” Mr Errington said.
‘At its worst, the disease completely halts seed production, so we have to collect vegetative materials.
‘If species disappear, we will never really know how important those species are to ecosystems. You might find a particular animal species could rely on those species for survival and as they could be threatened by other factors, myrtle rust just adds to that threat.’
Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust Executive Director, Professor David Mabberley, stressed the importance of external funding for the project to protect rainforest species.
‘Without the generous support from Arcadia and other supporters, Australian Rainforest Seed Project scientists could not embark on this venture to collect and save seed and plant materials for cryopreservation,’ Prof Mabberley said.