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Global Tree Seed Bank project

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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 6000 tree species assessed as threatened with extinction and over 1,100 species are listed on IUCN red lists as Critically Endangered.

The MSB already holds seeds of around 11,000 tree and shrub species. The establishment of the 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 five year project are to work with our partner organisations across the world to conserve 3,000 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 targets regions of the world where trees are particularly threatened: North America (USA and Mexico); the Caribbean (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico 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, Thailand and Indonesia); Australia and the Pacific (Fiji and New Zealand). With so many countries involved, there are over 40 participating partners.

The main objectives of the project are to:

Regional and Country Projects

Africa

In Africa the partnership is working in Cameroon, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, to collect 200 tree species for the project.

Project Coordinator: Martin Cheek

See our Africa region page for details

Asia

Tree seed collecting programmes have been developed in the Eastern Himalayas, Indo-Burma and Sundaland biodiversity hotspots concentrating in Bhutan, Thailand and Indonesia. Partners in this region are currently working towards a target of 394 species.

Project Coordinators: Kate Hardwick

See our Asia region page for details

Australia

The Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP), including nine partners, has an overall target of 380 tree species.

Project Coordinator: Elinor Breman

See our Australia region page for details

Caribbean

This project is working in the British Virgin Islands, Monserrat, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Puerto Rico and is aiming to collect 100 tree species.

Project Coordinator: Tom Heller

See our UKOT's region page for details

Caucasus

The Caucasus represent one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. The major threats to plant diversity in the region are economic development and over-exploitation. Currently the project has partnerships in Armenia, Azerbaijan and in Georgia. Through this programme 209 species, are being collected.

Project Coordinator: Aisyah Faruk / Emma Seal

See our Caucasus region page for details

Dominican Republic

This new collaborative project coordinated within the Natural Capital and Plant Health Department, focuses 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 200 Dominican tree seeds, dissemination of research and fieldwork outcomes, and support for large-scale propagation, reforestation and restoration projects.

Project Coordinator: Tiziana Ulian / Efisio Mattana / Michael Way

See the Kew Science Dominican Republic project Page for details

Europe

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, we will collect and conserve in seed banks at least 200 native European tree species.

Project Coordinator: Elinor Breman

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 700 of the rarest, most endangered and most useful Madagascan species.

Project Coordinator: Stuart Cable

See our Africa region page for details

Mexico

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

Project Coordinator: Tiziana Ulian / Efisio Mattana / Michael Way

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

Pacific

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 and New Zealand, and aims to support conservation efforts to bank seeds from 100 tree species, prioritising those most at risk.

Project Coordinator: Ruth Bone

USA

Project Coordinator: Michael Way

See our Americas region page for details

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

Project Funding

The project is generously funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation.

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