A multi-stemmed shrub, with several red nodding inflorescence. The leaves are short, narrow and glaucous at the top of woody stems. In the background is a forested mountainous landscape.
Darwinia oxylepis in habitat, Western Australia. Credit: Andrew Crawford, DBCA for Project Phoenix.

Australia’s flora is considered ‘megadiverse’ with more than 21,000 terrestrial plant species occurring across many different bioregions. Many species exhibit a high degree of adaptation and specialisation, and about 84% of vascular plant species are endemic, occurring nowhere else in the world.

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. Biodiversity hotspots such as the Southwest Australia Ecoregion and the Forests of Eastern Australia are home to particularly high numbers of endemic species.

Biodiversity loss is increasing in Australia, with more than 6% of plant species currently nationally listed as threatened, a figure which increases to 10% when state and territory data are included. Key threatening processes include past and ongoing habitat loss, inappropriate fire regimes, competition from invasive weeds, and diseases caused by pathogens such as Phytophthora cinnamomi (Dieback) and Austropuccinia psidii (Myrtle Rust). Superimposed on these individual threatening processes, and of potentially greater impact, are the compounding effects of interactions between threats. For example, climate change, when combined with these threat processes, is predicted to substantially increase the magnitude of adverse impacts on the Australia flora.

Germplasm conservation in Australia schematic
Germplasm conservation in Australia: an overview, as at April 2021. The proportion of recalcitrant species is a global estimate (Hay and Probert, 2013) though prevalence is higher in some habitats. Source: Martyn Yenson A.J., Commander L.E., Offord C.A., Makinson R.O. (2021) Chapter 1 Introduction. In ‘Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia: strategies and guidelines for developing, managing and utilising ex situ collections. Third edition.’ Australian Network for Plant Conservation, Canberra. Detailed alternative text is available for this image.

Australia is making a major contribution to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) through the Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ASBP). The MSB has worked in Australia since 2000, first with individual seed banks and conservation organisations across the continent, then since 2006 with the ASBP which brought the seed banks of different states and territories together under one umbrella.

The ASBP has a strategic focus on delivering a national effort that contributes to the conservation of Australia’s native plant diversity through collaborative and sustainable seed and germplasm collecting, banking and use, research, and knowledge sharing. The ASBP has led to strong in-country collaboration and sharing of efforts, experiences, and training with partners and associates, 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.

The ASBP has a strategic plan with a focus on 4 key outcomes:

  • Outcome 1: Growing our collections, research and restoration contributions;
  • Outcome 2: Growing our investments in our facilities and people;
  • Outcome 3: Improving engagement and partnerships with Australia's First Nations Peoples;
  • Outcome 4: Developing and sharing knowledge.

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.

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

Current projects (click project titles for details)

To find out more information about our partnership with the Australian Seed Bank Partnership, please visit the ASBP project webpage and Kew project webpage.

Funder: Garfield Weston Foundation

a Drosera schmutzii plant with several flower buds
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.

For further information, please visit the ASBP: bushfire recovery or Emergency Assessment and Collection Project webpages.

Past projects (click project titles for details)

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

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

Funding from the MSB helped initiate the ASBP 1000 Species Project in 2012. The priorities of this project were 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 included 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, aimed 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 focused on building wild seed resources of 40 species new to the MSBP, with the potential of 10 additional opportunistic collections.

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

Project Partners

Learn more about the members of the Australian Seed Bank Partnership.

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

Detailed alternative text

Germplasm Conservation in Australia. 21,000 plants in Australia. 84% Endemic species, >10% species under threat with 6% formally listed and many more by States. 20% land in reserves. 67.7% threatened flora in seed banks, 10 conservation seed banks in Australia and 8% seeds are recalcitrant.