Australia

Australia is one of only eighteen 'megadiverse’ countries as identified by the United Nations and therefore by definition contains a significant number of the earth’s species. Australia's native biodiversity is of global significance. The total number of Australian species comprises 15% of the world's total with a high proportion of these being endemic to the continent. However, threatened by massive land clearance since European settlement, significant problems from invasive species, increasingly aggressive pests and pathogens and with serious implications from a changing climate, 23% of Australian floral species are listed as under threat of extinction.

Australia is truly a land of contrasts. The extreme dryland of the "Red Centre" is a world away from the wet tropical forests of Northern Queensland and the alpine zones of the Snowy Mountains. This ancient landscape, having escaped the recent glacial ages, displays a mosaic of vegetation and habitats all very different from each other and has given rise to high levels of endemism across the continent. This is especially so in the South Western part of Western Australia, well known as a plant biodiversity hotspot of global significance.

Australia is making a major contribution to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) through the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP). Scientists from Kew’s MSBP are sharing their expertise with members of the ASBP in the six States and the Northern Territory on seed collection processes, conservation and research. The overall priority is to bank plant species considered rare or threatened in order to dramatically enhance the conservation of the Australian flora.

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Collecting Corymbia cliffoniana for the Global Tree Seed Bank Project. Credit: Australian National Botanic Gardens.

The MSB has worked in Australia since 2000, first with individual seed banks and conservation organisations across the continent, then since 2006 with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP) which brought together the different seed banks under one umbrella. In 2013 the last remaining territory, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) signed up with the MSBP to cover conservation of species managed by the Director of National Parks on the Australian islands of Christmas Island, Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island.

The ASBP ensures a programme of collaboration between research groups from each State and territory, as well as communication between partners as to species priorities and collections. The ASBP has led to strong in-country collaboration and sharing of efforts, experiences, and training, raising the profile of seed conservation significantly at a national level. ASBP is operating as a project under the Council of Heads of Australian Botanic Gardens (CHABG) and has evolved into a major contributor to plant conservation on the continent.

Kew has partnership agreements with each of the States and territories as well as with CHABG, these outline the nature of our collaboration and make explicit the uses of the collections and associated data and the sharing of benefits arising from the collaborations.

A number of projects have been undertaken as a result of Kew’s collaboration with ASBP, the current projects are listed below. All have centred on these common outcomes:

  1. ex situ conservation of State/Territory-defined target species with a focus on endangered, endemic and useful plant species;
  2. (further) development of ex situ conservation facilities and provision of training; and
  3. use of the collected materials for restoration and research purposes.

Since the start of the collaboration, Australia has contributed 11,500 seed collections to the MSB, representing over 8,700 taxa.

Current projects (Click project titles for details)

Funder – Garfield Weston Foundation

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Drosera schmutzii. Credit: South Australia Seed Conservation Centre.

Australian Bushfire Emergency Assessment and Collection Project

In response to the devastating bushfires experienced by Australia in 2019, additional funding was provided to the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP) to assess and where necessary collect the seeds of priority bushfire-affected species.

Over 24 million hectares were burnt in the 2019 Australian bushfire season, severely impacting the rich and unique flora and fauna of the continent. Since then, Australian partners and other botanical experts have been preparing target lists of activities for the highest priority bushfire-affected species. These lists have been compiled with timings for collections, known distributions and the status of species. Additionally, seed banking partners across Australia are testing existing collections of species affected by the fires. Testing existing collections will enable researchers to identify which collections remain viable during long-term storage, and if there are issues with viability these species will be prioritised for recollection.

During the last few months, ASBP members have started to conduct rapid assessments for seven taxa in the Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales and have mobilised seed collecting teams into some of these priority areas. The aim is to collect seeds of species that are severely affected by the fires and boost the genetic diversity of species already in seed banks for future research and restoration activities.

This project is supported by donors to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership

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A batch of Hydrocotyle sp nov (Araliaceae) batch. Credit: Andrew Crawford.

Funding from the MSB helped initiate the ASBP 1000 Species Project in 2012, and has continued to support the project to date. The priorities of this project are to:

  1. Collect and bank taxa whose seeds are not currently secured in Australia’s conservation seed banks, or in the Millennium Seed Bank, and are significant at a state and/or national level due to their endemic or economic value.
  2. Enhance collections of threatened species, especially those listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and/or state and territory legislation.
  3. Collection of wild species with knowledge or collection gaps, recalcitrant species (those with seeds that are intolerant of drying and therefore cannot be stored under standard seed bank conditions) and/or species with economic potential including those with value to revegetation activities.
  4. Identify appropriate seed banking methods for the conservation and use of Australia’s significant plants.
  5. Improve the genetic representation of species in Australia’s conservation seed banks and overcome remaining dormancy challenges.

Target species include plants of value for food security (e.g. crop wild relatives), horticulture (e.g. new ornamental species), industry (e.g. pharmaceutically active species) and habitat restoration.

Funder – Grantham Foundation

This project, which started in 2016, aims to collect plants that use C4 photosynthetic pathways, along with C3 sister species, to increase the provision of material for research into the genes and proteins resulting in C4 pathways. Over two years, ASBP will focus on building wild seed resources of 40 species new to the MSBP, with the potential of 10 additional opportunistic collections.

MSBP partners in Israel are also involved in the C4 project.

Project Partners

Australia Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP)
Australian Capital Territory Australian National Botanic Gardens
New South Wales Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust
Northern Territory George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
Queensland Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Brisbane City Council
Queensland Herbarium
South Australia Botanic Gardens and State Herbarium, Adelaide
Tasmania Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens,
Tasmanian Museum
Victoria Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria
Western Australia Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions (DBCA)
- Threatened Flora Seed Centre
- Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority, Kings Park

For further information please contact Aisyah Faruk, Conservation Partnership Coordinator for Australia at the MSB.