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Rainforest seed research update

During 2016, the Royal Botanic Gardens became a recognised authority on rainforest conservation in Australasia. This included hosting the 2016 Seed Science Forum in May, the opportunity for Dr Cathy Offord to travel interstate to facilitate the development of international standards for seed research as well as a role as editor of a seed-focused issue of the Australian Journal of Botany. Dr Karen Sommerville was also awarded another scholarship, this time to attend the National Center for Genetic Resource Preservation in Colorado USA, increasing the capacity of the Project to work with desiccation sensitive species.

Besides a continuation of rainforest seed collection and processing, activities also included hosting a rainforest researcher from Malaysia as well as an honours student and supported two PhD students, both of whom completed their research in 2016. Further developments were also made in the construction of an online rainforest seed biology course, which will complement further capacity building activities in 2017. 

Concluding research at the end of the fourth year of the Rainforest Conservation Project has also allowed for the reconciliation of all research outcomes and the identification of those goals to be targeted in 2017.

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In 2015 we consolidated our capacity to collect and conserve seeds of rainforest species. The excellent field collecting conditions noted in 2014 continued this year, allowing us to exceed collection targets.

An expansion of our contacts with external seed collectors, restoration practitioners and interested public also led to the collection of several threatened species that would otherwise have been next to impossible to obtain.

Public awareness of the rainforest project and additional funding for collecting were raised through the ‘Save A Species’ walk – over 30 Gardens’ staff participated in walking a total distance of 300 km in an effort to draw attention to the plight of threatened plant species and raise money to protect them from extinction by seedbanking.

Work on understanding the seed storage behaviour of the collected species also continued. These investigations can take some time to complete for each individual species; however, we are gradually building up our knowledge of which species can be successfully stored in the seedbank and which species require alternative or supplementary measures.

We can now direct our efforts to the tissue culture and cryopreservation of difficult-to-store species and this will be a focus of our research over the next two years. In anticipation of this work, a number of species have already been successfully initiated into tissue culture. Conditions for successfully growing, rooting and transferring plants back into pots were established for seven species this year; with these conditions established, work on cryopreservation of the species can now commence.

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Over 30 Garden's staff participated in walking a total distance of 300 km in an effort to draw attention to the plight of threatened plant species

The second year of the project has seen the expansion of activities to encompass the full range needed to reach our final goals. Collection of seeds of rainforest species has increased and a better season in some rainforest areas, especially due to increased rainfall, has enabled our scientists to focus on the most vulnerable species.

The Rainforest Seed Conservation Project continues to exceed our original expectations in terms of the species collected and the quality of the information generated. This has created great interest across a number of sectors, including the rainforest restoration industry and ecological researchers, and has firmly established the Royal Botanic Gardens & Domain Trust at the forefront of this research internationally.

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The Rainforest Seed Conservation Project was launched in October 2012 at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The project has been given a tremendous boost by the opening in October 2013 of the new conservation facility, the Australian PlantBank, located at the Australian Botanic Garden, Mount Annan. The co-location of the seed bank, tissue culture, cryostorage and other science facilities within Australia’s largest botanic garden, enables greater efficiency and outcomes from this world-class facility. 

Collection and seed analysis for the project is led by Graeme Errington, while Dr Amelia Martyn was appointed to develop and deliver the communication strategy for the project. Dr Karen Sommerville was appointed to oversee the development of alternative conservation techniques - tissue culture and cryostorage with Amanda Rollason providing technical support in the laboratory and nursery. 

By October 2013, 52 seed collections were analysed for their storage potential enabling the seedbanking of 24 species that would not otherwise have been collected nor stored. 

One group of Myrtaceae species were intensively studied for an honours year project and the results are being prepared for publication.

A list of species requiring alternative conservation techniques was developed and work began on 18 species in the living collection and 8 species in tissue culture. The new tissue culture and cryogenic facilities became operational in October 2013 and will greatly enhance this component of the project.

Training was provided to a range of sectors including local government, NGO’s, academia and Aboriginal land councils. This included workshops on the conservation of rainforest species to representatives of the mining industry Australian Network for and the Science Teachers Association. Intensive training was provided over one month to two staff from Bidoup Nuba National Park (BNNP) in Vietnam

52 seed collections were analysed for their storage potential enabling the seedbanking of 24 species that would not otherwise have been collected nor stored.

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Quantifiable outcomes achieved during the Rainforest Seed Conservation Project between January 2013 and December 2016.

Task Number Facts & Findings
Species collected 225 Rainforest species are often rare and seeds few, making collecting difficult
Species germination tested 239 Many species have very woody seeds; some take a long time to germinate
Species tested for storage life in the seedbank 38 While some species can tolerate drying, they may not last long in seedbank storage
Species established as seedlings 81 Seedlings are used for further research and for planting out
Species established in tissue culture 28 Tissue culture may be the only way to conserve extremely rare species
Species tested for survival in cryostorage over liquid nitrogen (at -192°C) 8 Material can be held indefinitely until needed. However, research is required for each species.
Presentations given 15 Knowledge transfer is essential for landholders and restoration
Peer-reviewed articles published 2
General articles published 13
Book chapters published 1
Hours of training (no. students x no. hours) 160 We contribute to programs in Australia and elsewhere 
Last updated: December 2016