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Global Tree Seed Bank Programme

A seed collector kneeling collecting seed from a shrub overlooking a wide forested valley
Seeds for Life collector Jason Halford collecting the geographically isolated Melaleuca pyramidalis on Walsh's Pyramid in Wooroonooran National Park. Credit: Simon Bush, Brisbane Botanic Gardens

Conserving the increasing numbers of threatened trees globally as a significant resource for humankind.

Background and Rationale

Trees are invaluable resources, providing essential materials such as timber, fuel, food and medicines. In the landscape, they perform vital services such as water catchment, erosion and pollution control and climate regulation. Yet, trees are under increasing threat from habitat loss, climate change, pests and diseases. Of the estimated 60,000 tree species globally, only around 450 species are used today in commercial forestry and are stored in forestry seed banks leaving the remaining non-commercial species with little representation in ex situ conservation. Currently, there are over 6,000 tree species assessed as threatened with extinction and over 1,100 species are listed on IUCN red lists as Critically Endangered.

The Millennium Seed Bank (MSB) already holds seeds of around 11,000 tree and shrub species. The establishment of the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) as the global repository for tree seeds - the Global Tree Seed Bank, will be a significant resource and vital in the fight to conserve the increasing number of threatened tree species globally.

Aims

Funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation, the aims of this programme are to work with our partner organisations across the world to conserve up to 5,000 of the rarest, most threatened and useful trees and woody shrubs, and to undertake a number of research programmes to improve our knowledge of tree conservation.

Objectives

This multidiscipline project involves five of the Science Departments at Kew: Collections, Comparative Plant and Fungal Biology, Conservation Science, Identification and Naming, and Natural Capital and Plant Health. As part of the seed collecting programme, the project has targeted regions of the world where trees are particularly threatened: North America (USA and Mexico), South America (Colombia), the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, The Bahamas and UK Overseas Territories), Africa (Cameroon, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Madagascar), Europe (Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Italy, Poland and Spain) and the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia), Asia (Bhutan, Japan, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Indonesia) and Australia and the Pacific (Fiji, Hawai'i and New Zealand). In a new phase of the project starting in 2020, seed collecting projects are continuing in Mexico, Madagascar, Bhutan, Thailand and Indonesia. In addition, three new projects have been developed in Mozambique, South Africa and Pakistan. With so many countries involved, there are over 50 participating partners.

The main objectives of the project are to:

Regional and Country Projects

Africa

From 2015 to 2019 in Africa the programme worked with Partners in Cameroon, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria to collect the seeds of 283 species within the four countries. From 2020, the programme will focus on new projects in South Africa and Mozambique.

Project Coordinators - Southern Africa: Jo Osborne & Tim Pearce

Project Coordinators - West Africa: Xander van der Burgt & Martin Cheek (project completed)

See our Africa region page for details

Americas

Project Coordinator: Michael Way

See our Americas region page for details

Asia

Tree seed collecting programmes have been developed in the Eastern Himalayas, Indo-Burma, Sundaland and Japan biodiversity hotspots. Projects continue in Bhutan, Thailand, Indonesia and Japan. Smaller projects were also developed in Taiwan and Papua New Guinea, which have now been completed, but a new project has started in Pakistan.

Project Coordinators: Kate Hardwick, Chris Cockel (Pakistan) & Sharon Balding (Japan)

See our Asia region page for details

Australia (project completed)

The Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP), including nine partners, completed all seed collection activities by 2019 and collected a total of 482 species.

Due to the devastating bushfires seen in 2019, ASBP received further funding in 2020 to support bushfire response activities.

Project Coordinator: Aisyah Faruk

See our Australia region page for details

Caribbean (project completed)

Within the Caribbean, the programme worked with partners in The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, St. Lucia and Puerto Rico. A total of 120 species were collected, surpassing the 100 species target for this region.

Project Coordinator: Tom Heller

See our UKOT's region page for details

Caucasus (project completed)

The Caucasus represents one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. The major threats to plant diversity in the region are economic development and over-exploitation. From 2015-2019 the programme worked with Partners in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Through this programme 209 species were collected in the three countries.

Project Coordinator: Ian Willey

See our Caucasus region page for details

Dominican Republic

This collaborative project, coordinated within the Natural Capital and Plant Health Department, focused on conserving, propagating and restoring some of the most important and threatened forest species in the country. Primary outcomes include the collection, banking and research of 315 Dominican tree species, dissemination of research and fieldwork outcomes, and support for large-scale propagation, reforestation and restoration projects.

Project Coordinators: Tiziana Ulian, Elena Castillo-Lorenzo & Michael Way

See the Kew Science Dominican Republic project page for details

Europe (project completed)

The major threats to Europe's trees are human impacts related to economic development and the threats to trees from changing climate and the associated changing patterns in plant pests and diseases. To counter this threat, 330 species (182 unique species) were collected and conserved in seed banks.

Project Coordinator: Aisyah Faruk

See our Europe region page for details

Madagascar

Madagascar is a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot with over 4,000 native tree species. Much of the natural habitat is under extreme threat from forest degradation by subsistence farmers, illegal loggers and mining. With our Madagascan office (KMCC) and partner institutions, this project aims to collect some of the rarest, most endangered and most useful Madagascan species.

Project Coordinators: Stuart Cable & Solofo Rakotoarisoa

Mexico

In Mexico the project started in 2015 and aims to implement integrated in situ and ex situ conservation of tree species, prioritising endemic, protected and useful plants important for the livelihoods of rural communities.

Project Coordinators: Tiziana Ulian, Elena Castillo-Lorenzo & Michael Way

See the Science-Based Conservation of tree species in Mexico Project page for details

Pacific (project completed)

The South Pacific region is a biodiversity hotspot largely comprising island floras that are vulnerable to alien invasive species. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank has developed new partnerships in the region since 2012 in Fiji, New Zealand and Hawai'i and supported conservation efforts to bank seeds from over 100 priority tree species.

Project Coordinators: Aisyah Faruk & Michael Way

Project Funding

The project is generously funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

Garfield Weston Foundation

For further information please contact Sharon Balding, Seed Conservation Projects Officer at the MSB.