Get Regular Updates!
Search

Earth

image|

Dr David Merritt

The wonderful world of seed banks

The wonderful world of seed banks

Most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about seeds, but you can bank on the fact that scientists are.

The wonderful world of seed banks

Seeds – and the plants they grow – are a vital part of WA’s ecosystem. And to protect our vast biodiversity, teams of seed collectors and scientists keep native WA seeds safe in specialised banks around the world.

Banking on it

Originally set up in the 1960s to source seed material for native plants in Kings Park, the WA Seed Centre now performs a vital conservation role.

“Ideally, plant species belong in the wild, but for a range of reasons, plant species can be threatened,” says Dr David Merritt. He’s the Principal Research Scientist for the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions and is based at Kings Park.

“Seed banks are a way to extinction-proof our native plant species.”

View Larger
Image|Dr David Merritt
Collecting in the Pilbara

But with more than 10,000 native plant species in WA, scientists have to prioritise.

“We always look for threatened species – there are more than 450 threatened species in WA.”

A person uses long tweezers to sort small seeds from a petrie dish
Image|RBG Kew
Sorting seeds
“We also prioritise seeds in areas of bushland that need to be restored or seeds which are threatened by new diseases."

“We’re currently engaged in a project that involves cataloguing eucalyptus seeds, which are vulnerable to a new type of fungus on the east coast.”

Another big threat to plant populations is bushfires, which, thanks to climate change, have longer seasons and are more dangerous.

“The bushland is naturally adapted to regenerate after bushfires, but with increasing scale and frequency, you can start to see impacts on species that can’t cope.”

Indeed, because of the introduction of new species into Australia, many native species can struggle to cope after catastrophic bushfires.

Back in time

But seed banks aren’t just great for conservation. According to David, they provide an important reference point for scientists looking to understand how plant species change over time.

“The original seeds in the Kings Park collection are now proving very valuable in understanding seed longevity,” says David. “We would expect seeds in the bank to survive for decades or even centuries.”

Yes, that means there are seeds in the bank from the 1960s that you could plant today.

View Larger
Image|Kings Park
The Kings Park Seed Bank around the late 1980s – by this stage, the seeds were stored in an air-conditioned room but still within the original jars that they had been in since collection through the 1960s to 1980s.

Deep freeze

So how exactly do you store seeds so they live for potentially centuries?

“First, we carefully dry the seeds. Removing the water stops not only germination but most chemical processes within the seed. In effect, the seeds go into a state of hibernation.”

Luckily, our dry climate means most WA seeds dry easily. Scientists in more tropical climates, however, have a harder time.

“Species that occur in rainforests don’t survive the drying process. To store these, you need to remove the seed embryo, which can be very difficult.”

Once the seeds are dried, they’re stored at incredibly cold temperatures.

“Our seed bank runs at -18°C, but we also use cryo storage in liquid nitrogen at -196°C for high-priority and threatened species.”

View Larger
Image|RBG Kew
Storing seeds at cold temperatures

You sound like you’re from London

And like many budding Western Australians, our seeds have ventured across the seas to London, taking up residence in the Millennium Seed Bank.

Located at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Millennium Seed Bank boasts a collection of over 2.4 billion seeds from around the world, including seeds from Kings Park.

A series of long buildings stand in a field under a blue sky - it is the UK Native Seed Collection dedicated to Sir David Attenborough
Image|RBG Kew
Millennium Seed Bank, London
“Storing seeds in London means our biodiversity is backed up. Duplication is a key risk management strategy.”

Who knows how these seed banks will be used in the future, what questions they’ll help answer or what species they’ll help rehabilitate?

Particle Puns

Republish

Creative Commons Logo

Republishing our content

We want our stories to be shared and seen by as many people as possible.

Therefore, unless it says otherwise, copyright on the stories on Particle belongs to Scitech and they are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

This allows you to republish our articles online or in print for free. You just need to credit us and link to us, and you can’t edit our material or sell it separately.

Using the ‘republish’ button on our website is the easiest way to meet our guidelines.

Guidelines

You cannot edit the article.

When republishing, you have to credit our authors, ideally in the byline. You have to credit Particle with a link back to the original publication on Particle.

If you’re republishing online, you must use our pageview counter, link to us and include links from our story. Our page view counter is a small pixel-ping (invisible to the eye) that allows us to know when our content is republished. It’s a condition of our guidelines that you include our counter. If you use the ‘republish’ then you’ll capture our page counter.

If you’re republishing in print, please email us to let us so we know about it (we get very proud to see our work republished) and you must include the Particle logo next to the credits. Download logo here.

If you wish to republish all our stories, please contact us directly to discuss this opportunity.

Images

Most of the images used on Particle are copyright of the photographer who made them.

It is your responsibility to confirm that you’re licensed to republish images in our articles.

Video

All Particle videos can be accessed through YouTube under the Standard YouTube Licence.

The Standard YouTube licence

  1. This licence is ‘All Rights Reserved’, granting provisions for YouTube to display the content, and YouTube’s visitors to stream the content. This means that the content may be streamed from YouTube but specifically forbids downloading, adaptation, and redistribution, except where otherwise licensed. When uploading your content to YouTube it will automatically use the Standard YouTube licence. You can check this by clicking on Advanced Settings and looking at the dropdown box ‘License and rights ownership’.
  2. When a user is uploading a video he has license options that he can choose from. The first option is “standard YouTube License” which means that you grant the broadcasting rights to YouTube. This essentially means that your video can only be accessed from YouTube for watching purpose and cannot be reproduced or distributed in any other form without your consent.

Contact

For more information about using our content, email us: particle@scitech.org.au

Copy this HTML into your CMS
Press Ctrl+C to copy

We've got chemistry. Want something physical?