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.
Thank you for your participation!
Information Officer, APAFRI
(Posted on behalf of APAFRI)
…a discussion forum for seed scientists world-wide.