Native species seed bank brings rare plants to the brink of extinction

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A project to help recover some of South Australia’s rare flowering plants blooms on the Eyre Peninsula, through a seed bank that aims to ensure the future survival of more than 80% of the world’s most endangered species. the state.

Unlike the extinct native animals of Australia, flowering plants have the unique assurance of seeds that can regenerate lost species.

Some pods can lie dormant for hundreds of years before germinating – and that’s exactly what researchers and volunteers across the country are banking on to protect declining vegetation.

The South Australian Seed Conservation Center is working to recover some of the eyre Peninsula’s rarest native plants, including the Corunna Daisy and the Chalky Acacia.

Only one population of Corunna Daisy (brachyscome muelleri) remains and is found on the slopes of Corunna Hill station north of Iron Knob, while only 50 chalky acacia (Acacia cretacea) plants are left in the wild in the north of the Eyre peninsula.

Botanists at the center collected seeds from both species, germinated them, and transferred the plants to the Secret Rocks Preserve near Kimba, which has a fenced area to protect the plants from introduced and native herbivores.

Some of the flowers in the Secret Rocks Preserve, clockwise from top left: Corunna Daisy, Nodding Blue Lily, Granite Vase, and Geraldton’s Wax.(ABC Eyre Peninsula and provided the South Australian Seed Conservation Center )

Secret Rocks environmentalist and co-owner John Read said they had worked with the Seed Conservation Center for about six years and brought back about 12 species of plants.

“It’s really important not to have all of our eggs in one basket in case a fire or something crosses that one known population,” Dr Read said.

“The [Corunna daisy and acacia cretacea] have grown, had seeds and we’re getting new recruits and it’s really rewarding to see these rare plants, ”said Dr Read.

Man with hat standing by large rock and bush, and next to sign about Mallee Refuge Red Trail with photos of plants
Secret Rocks co-owner Dr John Read in the fenced-in refuge area where flora is grown from seeds and plants from the state herbarium.(ABC Eyre Peninsula: Jodie Hamilton)

But there were challenges.

“We planted chalky wattles two years ago during this terrible drought and despite their water supply, and the school in the Kimba region went out and watered them, most of them didn’t. just not successful, ”said Dr Read.

“But this year, with very good winter rains, we are having a lot more success.”

Jenny Guerin, head of seeds at the SA Seed Conservation Center, said the transfer of the rare plants meant there would be a rescue population if the original wild plants were wiped out.

Climate, invasive species are wreaking havoc

Dr Guerin said habitat loss due to historic clearing for agriculture, pressure from herbivores and alien species, and the unpredictable nature of climate change impacted plant survival.

“We have already seen some effects of hot days and drought that make some plant populations difficult,” said Dr. Guerin.

Flower of a spider orchid, blurred background
Tiny dust-like seeds are collected on this rare spider orchid at Secret Rocks.(Provided: South Australian Seed Conservation Center)

The national coordinator of the Australian seed bank partnership, Damian Wrigley, said the concept of seed banks was not new.

“There have been seed banks for thousands of years, ancient Egypt had a seed store, and Bruce Pascoe has written about the collection and movement of indigenous seeds,” Wrigley said.

He said Australia had 23,000 species of flowering plants and seeds had been collected from 13,000 of them.

There are 10 seed banks across the country, including the South Australia Seed Conservation Center at the State Herbarium, which has been collecting seeds since 2003.

Dr Guerin said the seed bank was being used for research, including seed collection and monitoring, after a bushfire burned nearly half of Secret Rocks’ 26,000-hectare property in summer 2019/2020.

“Many seeds can germinate after a fire because it is a very favorable environment because there is a lack of competition. [and] there are additional nutrients in the soil, ”she said.

“Some species will only germinate after a fire and you won’t see them until after a fire.”

A sprig of acacia with chalky green leaves and three balls of yellow flowers
Only 50 chalky acacia plants (Acacia cretacea) are left in the wild in the north of the Eyre peninsula.(Provided: Australia’s Most Endangered Species Foundation)

Saved just in time

The work at Secret Rocks is already saving the plants.

“There is a very small plant, it’s called a granite mudflat [limosella granitica], and it only lives in the small ephemeral pools in the granite boulders, so we were able to plant it in Secret Rocks, which I think is very important because it is a very specialized habitat, ”said Dr Guerin.

She hoped that in the future everyone could have access to planting rare plants.

Mr Wrigley said a team of volunteers across the country are helping to preserve Australian vegetation.

“We don’t just store the seeds like in a museum – they are used for restoration or research; we grow them and can move them, ”he said.

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