Some of you may know that one of my (Marnie Light’s) favourite topics of research is related to the effects of plant-derived smoke on seed germination. In November last year, I attended a ‘special session’ on smoke ecology at the 6th International Fire Ecology & Management Congress organised by the Association for Fire Ecology (AFE). The special session was hosted by Dr Mary Lata, who arranged the programme for the special session. It was fantastic to have an entire session dedicated to this topic, and a great opportunity for me to meet Prof. Jon Keeley (USA) and Prof. Mark Ooi (Australia), as well as several other researchers in the field.
Following some discussion with the organisers and the Editor-in-Chief of the South African Journal of Botany, it was decided to run a special issue on ‘Smoke Ecology and Applications of Plant-Derived Smoke‘ in the journal. The aim of this is to highlight some of the research presented at the AFE congress, as well as to publish articles on related topics.
We are inviting anyone who has carried out research relating to the effects of plant-derived smoke on seed germination or plant growth (smoke ecology/technology) to submit their manuscripts for inclusion in this special issue.
At the end of November 2015, the following article was published in the Australian Journal of Botany. A worthwhile read, the article discusses some problems with using mean time to germination (MGT) for comparing pairs or groups of means to evaluate seed vigour since MGT is an ‘index of germination speed’. Rather, the authors suggest using t50 (time to 50% germination). For more detailed information, get your own copy by clicking on the title link below! This is definitely a useful article for seed scientists, and also contains several references to other papers discussing germination measurements.
The position of Seed Technology Manager has become available in the Research Department at the Stark Ayres Head Office in Johannesburg (South Africa). Deadline for application is 15 January 2016, and more information can be found here: Seed Technology Manager – KFN – Dec 2015
Reporting to the Research Manager, the purpose of the position is twofold:
(1) To develop, seek, test and implement seed treatments and technologies to complement Starke Ayres genetics, and
(2) To oversee functioning of the QA process by taking into account all relevant data for each seed lot (genetic purity, seed health, germination and vigour) and deciding on the most appropriate course of action in order to maximize rapid sale of approved seed and minimize risk for potentially problematic seed lots.
Continuously look out for new ways to positively complement and add value to the genetics of Starke Ayres seeds.
Oversee implementation and adoption of validated treatments/methods into the factory.
Design and develop novel seed treatment processes to apply seed treatment formulations to seeds that maintain or improve upon treated seed characteristics and that are transferable to manufacturing.
Monitor trends in quality parameters (moisture / germination) of stored seed lots to ensure minimal loss of saleable seed.
Oversee the Quality assurance process from a high level to co-ordinate results from the seed germination laboratory, the biotechnology laboratory and pathology laboratory.
Once again, another year has flown by, and we find ourselves in the middle of December 2015! Towards the end of last year, we had hoped to host a small conference in the middle of this year, but unfortunately, we were unable to make it happen. However, the seed of that idea remains viable, albeit somewhat dormant at this stage, but we will do our best to get it to germinate at some stage in the near future!
Slowly, but surely, the number of blog followers have increased, and we now have around 30-35 followers. It is a reasonable improvement compared to having around 15-20 followers last year, but we need more! This blog is the primary mechanism for communication for our IUFRO Unit 2.09.03 and it is important that we use this as a useful communication tool. So, please tell your friends and colleagues about our blog and ask them to sign up to receive updates (we promise not to send too many), and do send us any information that you may wish to share on the blog.
We trust that 2015 has been a successful year, and that your research is progressing steadily.
Introduction to our ‘Guest Blog’ below (by Shelagh McCartan)
I recently spotted an article about the ‘Global Tree Seed Bank Initiative’. I asked Tannis Beardmore, who is involved in the ex situ conservation of native tree species in Canada, to provide some facts and figures about the critically endangered species that are currently under-represented in seed banks.
Guest Blog by Tannis Beardmore (Tree Seed Researcher at Natural Resources Canada, Canada)
There are an estimated 80,000 species of trees in the world. Approximately 450 species are used today in commercial forestry and are stored in forestry seed banks leaving the remaining 79,550 species with uncertain representation in ex situ conservation. Over 9,000 tree species are currently assessed as threatened with extinction, and over 1,100 species are listed on IUCN red lists as Critically Endangered and they are likely to become extinct unless urgent action is taken. Recently, it was identified that 74% of the most threatened trees are absent from ex situ collections. There is such uncertainty with regard to the full impact of a species going extinct. Species diversity ensures ecosystem resilience, giving ecological communities the scope they need to withstand stressors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have estimated that losing one plant species from an ecosystem can create a cascade of up to 30 other localised plant and animal extinctions.
Seed banking is becoming more important than ever as species populations are disappearing at greatly accelerated rates as a result of a variety of stressors. Given the magnitude and scope of the challenges we face in conserving plant diversity, seed are often the propagule of choice to collect and store. Seed banks can offer the most cost-effective means for storing large numbers of species over long periods of time. Many seed banks were created in the 1970s-80s and were developed to address the global surge in agricultural crop yields. It was recognized that vast amount of agricultural biodiversity was being lost, as farmers abandoned old seeds, often locally developed over centuries, for new hybrids. Excellent initiatives have been developed primarily to address the ex situ conservation of agricultural seed. Recently, there is focus on the ex situ conservation of tree species.
In 2014, the Global Tree Seed Bank Initiative was developed and became possible through funding by the Garfield Weston Foundation in Canada (funding of £5 million). This initiative is a 4-year project which involves the Global Trees Campaign (GTC) and the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) who will work with partners around the world to provide training on seed collection and establish ex situ seed collections for threatened tree species. The GTC was launched as a joint initiative in 1999 between Fauna & Flora International and Botanic Gardens Conservation International to conserve the world’s threatened tree species, while the MSBP is an international conservation project coordinated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, United Kingdom. The goal of the Global Tree Seed Bank Initiative is to establish an ex situ collection in each species’ country of origin, while back-up collections will also be established at the Millennium Seed Bank.
This initiative has the goal to secure ex situ collections of seed from 500 priority tree species from around the world with a focus on threatened trees. The partnership also aims to increase capacity for seed collection of threatened trees and raise awareness of the value of establishing seed collections for the world’s threatened trees. Currently, the MSBP has already collected seed from 3900 trees over the last 14 years, and as a result of this new project aims to increase its tree collections by 50% over four years (by March 2019).
This initiative is working with existing and new MSB partners across the world to target seed collection of the rarest, most threatened and useful trees. Fifteen countries across four continents are participating in this initiative. Alongside seed collecting, a research programme is being undertaken to improve our knowledge of tree species leading to improved conservation. Propagation protocols are being established for key species and used for forest restoration projects. A DNA fingerprint library of important timber species is being assembled for pinpointing the geographical origin of timber exports. Storage protocols for recalcitrant tree species like oak (Quercus) and magnolia (Magnolia) are being developed. Genetic studies on rare trees are being carried out to help design species recovery programmes in island habitats. Additionally, methodologies are being established to study tree species traits and their resilience to environmental threats, leading to better prioritisation of species for seed banking. This is an exciting initiative which should have a significant impact on conserving some of the world’s most threatened tree species.
Introduction to our ‘Guest Blog’ below (by Marnie Light)
Through some connections to our blog, it was suggest that we ask Dr Patricia Holmes to give us some information on a project that she has been involved in on the restoration of areas of fynbos in the Cape Floristic Region that have been invaded by alien (non-native) species. While this perhaps is not specifically related to ‘forest seed research’, there are certainly aspects of this study that are pertinent to many of our fellow researchers. We hope you find this guest blog interesting!
Guest Blog by Patricia Holmes (Biophysical Specialist, Biodiversity Management Branch, Environmental Resource Management Department, City of Cape Town, South Africa)
Seed ecology research improves restoration potential
in alien-invaded fynbos of the Cape Floristic Region global biodiversity hotspot
The Blaauwberg Nature Reserve spans 1500 ha of irreplaceable lowland habitat within the City of Cape Town Municipality, South Africa. All three vegetation types present are nationally threatened and under-conserved. One of these, Cape Flats Sand Fynbos, occurs on nutrient-poor, acid sands and is one of the most transformed and poorly conserved vegetation types in the country. It also supports 16 endemic plant species and over 80 IUCN-listed as threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, fynbos in the reserve has long been invaded and degraded by the Australian tree species, Acacia saligna, and is a top conservation priority to restore.
Fynbos, like Australian kwongan, is a species-rich, Mediterranean-climate and fire-driven shrubland with a very high proportion of obligate re-seeding species. Many species depend on canopy or soil-stored persistent seed banks for recruitment after fire. However, invading alien tree species out-compete the fynbos and the seed banks are no longer replenished between fires. The restoration potential, therefore, depends on the size and diversity of the residual persistent seed bank in the soil. Species with canopy seed storage, such as proteas, are among the first to be eliminated following dense alien tree invasion.
Earlier research in Sand Fynbos, as well as current research at Blaauwberg (the latter funded by Arcadia through the Millenium Seed Bank Partnership, Kew), have indicated that soil-stored seed banks are indeed highly depleted and that active restoration, in the form of species re-introduction by seed, is required post-alien clearance. Sources of seed for important functional components of the vegetation are in short supply and it is imperative to optimize restoration success through an improved understanding of the required pre-sowing treatments to break dormancy and promote germination and establishment. Current research has focussed on applying fire-related germination cues in the growth chamber, nursery and also in field trials. Some species were found to be stimulated by heat pulse alone (or in combination with smoke), smoke, scarification and diurnal temperature fluctuations for various durations. Application of appropriate pre-treatments to species prior to sowing in the field is showing positive results and demonstrates the importance of seed research in ecological restoration.
For more information on The Centre for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University, which is the research partner hosting the students involved in the project, click here.
Survey for restoration practitioners: Seed and seedling sources in forest and landscape restoration
Meeting global and national commitments for forest and landscape restoration requires large amounts of tree seed and seedlings, either through planting or natural dispersal and recruitment.
Asia Pacific Forest Genetic Resources Programme (APFORGEN), hosted by APAFRI, is conducting a global survey about the availability of seed and seedlings for forest and landscape restoration, in collaboration with Bioversity International and the regional forest genetic resources programmes in Latin America (LAFORGEN) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SAFORGEN).
If you have been involved in forest and landscape restoration projects, we would much appreciate if you could share your experiences with us.
The results of the survey will be used to identify action needs and recommendations for countries and the international community on how to improve supply of tree seeds and seedlings, in order to help meet global and national restoration targets.
Introduction to our ‘Guest Blog’ below (by Shelagh McCartan)
During the past three years, I have co-ordinated a collection of juniper berries (Juniperus communis) for the UK National Tree Seed Project, which is overseen by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. As such, I have scrambled up mountains and squelched through bogs in England, Scotland and Wales, collecting the sometimes elusive purple berries. I asked the project co-ordinator, Clare Trivedi, to provide background information about this ambitious 5-year project, which involves banking seeds from fifty native trees and shrubs.
Guest Blog by Clare Trivedi (UK Conservation Partnerships Co-ordinator, RBG KEW, UK)
In 2013, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (RBG Kew) launched the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP). The project will build a national ex situ seed collection that is both genetically comprehensive and comprises sufficient seeds to support research and conservation. It will also improve our understanding of how best to sample, source, store, germinate and use seeds from the UK woody flora. Over recent years, a series of high level reports and strategies have made the case for conserving, restoring and extending woodland cover in the UK in order to develop a coherent ecological network, resilient to environmental change. It is widely agreed that this requires an increase in the species and genetic diversity of planting material but there is ongoing debate over what guidance should be given to practitioners on which particular species, of which provenance, are most appropriate for any given tree planting project. In addition, the need to manage the risks from increasing incidence of pest and disease outbreaks in the UK are well recognised and a priority for research activity and practical actions. It is in this context that the UKNTSP was launched by Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank. Thanks to support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, we are now halfway through a five year initial workplan, focused on a priority list of 50 species. The resulting collections will be accessible to researchers in order to meet the many challenges facing UK trees and woodlands. The job is too big for Kew to take on alone and so we have developed a significant consortium of partner organisations. These range from small, local NGOs through to conservation organisations and government agencies. We have welcomed considerable support from the Woodland Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the UK forestry agency, the Forestry Commission.
A key challenge for the project has been deciding where and how to make collections of each species in order to ensure they represent the UK genetic diversity of the species. Given that relatively little is known about the population genetics, it was decided that for every target species, seed collections will be made in each of the Forestry Commission Seed Zones where it is native. These seed zones are based on biogeographic data. The first step was to understand the distribution of the target species across the UK. This was achieved by first putting distribution data from the Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI) into Geographical Information System (GIS) software. The seed zones map was used as an overlay to determine the seed zone occurrence of each species. Having determined within which seed zones the species should be collected, the next step is to find appropriate woodlands in a given area to visit, in order to collect the target species. We need to ensure that we only collect from trees that are native to the woodlands in which they are found. We also need enough target trees to make a quality collection. This takes time and effort but the result will be a much improved knowledge of the local provenance of seed sources for a wide range of species. Our partners play a significant role in this part of the project. Importantly, we keep collections from every mother tree stored separately in the seed bank, and each tree is geo-referenced and tagged. Overall, we aim for collection sizes of thousands of seeds from each woodland. It is hoped these strategies will maximise the value of the collections for studies such as provenance trials and screening for traits such as pest and disease resistance. We are now halfway through this ambitious project, and expect a significant number of collections to arrive at the bank in the forthcoming collecting season. While we always set out to build a UK National Tree Seed Bank, it is exciting to recognise that we are also building a wide and strong consortium of organisations interested in working to improve the conservation and supply of UK tree seeds.