Big business of biodiversity dependent on seed

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Seed banks must become more than ‘stamp-collections’ of species if global conservation efforts are to be successful, according to two eminent plant biologists.

They write in Science this week that effective seed banks are essential to stemming the tide of extinction and environmental degradation.

Dr David Merritt, an honorary adjunct lecturer in The University of Western Australia’s School of Plant Biology and Professor Kingsley Dixon, Director of Kings Park and Botanic Garden and a UWA Permanent Visiting Professor, write that seeds are the primary tool for reintroducing plant species.

“But effectively using seeds of wild species in contemporary restoration is facing a crisis of scale. Most of the world’s seed banks dedicated to wild species have seed holdings that are barely sufficient to provide seed for but a few percent of the areas in need,” they write.

“The restoration of nature, natural assets, and biodiversity, is now a global business worth at least $1.6 trillion annually and likely to grow substantially.

“We propose that seed banks need to shift from being ‘stamp-collections’ to collections that can deliver restoration-ready seeds at the scale of a metric ton and larger.”

Beyond the core skills of collection and storage of germplasm (a species’ hereditary material) seed banks need to engage in rigorous science-based restoration-use of germplasm, seed farming, and training and information dissemination.

“Connecting science to the community is particularly important, with opportunities at a local scale to develop traditional foods and medicines into the restoration palette through traditional ecological knowledge.”

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