Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Saves 10% of World’s Wild Plants


LONDON, UK, October 15, 2009 (ENS) – The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew celebrated a milestone in plant conservation today, the collection and banking of 10 percent of the world’s wild plant species. The 10 percent target was set in 2000 when Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership was formed.

Kew today banked its 24,200th plant species, a pink wild forest banana from China which is an important staple for wild Asian elephants. It is also a wild crop relative that is a valuable genetic resource for breeding new varieties of banana with disease resistance traits to ensure the continued cultivation of bananas in the future.

Commonly called the Yunnan banana, Musa itinerans is increasingly under threat in the wild due to its jungle habitat being cleared for commercial agriculture. Seed of this plant species was collected in Southwest China by Kew’s local Millennium Seed Bank partner, the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The unique banana was celebrated at an official 10 percent banking ceremony hosted by Kew’s Director Professor Stephen Hopper and attended by representatives from partner institutions from around the globe. The event took place at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank located at Wakehurst Place, Sussex.

“In a time of increasing concern about loss of biodiversity and climate change, Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership provides a real message of hope and is a vital resource in an uncertain world,” said Hopper.

While this accomplishment is being celebrated, a new challenge approaches – collecting and banking a quarter of the world’s plants by 2020.

“Without plants there could be no life on Earth, and yet every day another four plant species face extinction,” said Hopper. “Too often when we hear these kind of statistics there is little that we can do as individuals, but thanks to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership and the Adopt a Seed, Save a Species campaign there is something that you can do to ensure the survival of a plant species.”

Today, between 60,000 and 100,000 species of plants are threatened with extinction, roughly a quarter of all plant species. Clearing of primary vegetation, over-exploitation and climate change are all causing species losses, Kew says.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (Photo courtesy RBG Kew)

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership is the largest ex situ plant conservation project in the world. Its focus is on global plant life faced with the threat of extinction and plants of most use for the future. The seeds are conserved outside their native habitat.

Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to secure the safe storage of 25 percent of the world’s plants by 2020. The partnership targets plants and regions most at risk from climate change and the ever-increasing impact of human activities.

From Washington, DC, U.S Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey today congratulated the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in its milestone accomplishment. For nearly 10 years, the BLM has been a partner with Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Program in its native seed collection effort.

Created through this partnership, the BLM’s Seeds of Success program played a role in Kew’s ability to meet its goal on time and under budget. This nationwide seed-collecting network of teams has made over 8,500 wildland native seed collections to support the Native Plant Materials Development Program and simultaneously seed banked over 10 percent of the U.S. wild plants for future generations.

Abbey said, “Not only is BLM leading a national effort to develop diversity and quantity in native plant materials for restoration and rehabilitation projects, but the agency is also shaping global conservation in the face of today’s environmental challenges.”

From Botswana, Dr. Moctar Sacande, Millennium Seed Bank regional coordinator for West Africa, said, “Our work on the Mongongo tree, Schinziophyton rautenenii, a wild plant of Botswana, provides a good example of how our approach can benefit communities in Africa.”

Mongongo nuts (Photo courtesy Phytotrade Africa)

The Mongongo tree produces a highly nutritious fleshy fruit and a nut that form part of the daily diet of subsistence communities in Botswana.

“Our partners were struggling to germinate seedlings; from 100 seeds they could grow no more than 15 trees,” said Dr. Sacande. “Our research at the Millennium Seed Bank helped discover how to germinate this species. Having shared our skills and knowledge they now grow an average of 87 saplings from 100 seeds. A greater harvest will hopefully create a better diet and a better quality of life.”

The Millennium Seed Bank is also sharing skills, expertise and knowledge with partners, subsistence farmers and community organizations.

“By doing so the MSB is helping to solve some of the problems we face today, ranging from food production to new medicines, renewable energy to the preservation of important habitats,” Dr. Sacande said.

“The scope of our work is immense,” he said, asking for public support for the seed banking project. “On average it costs us £2,200 to collect and store seeds of one species,” he calculated. “We need your support to protect the resources that will help ensure our survival and that of communities across the globe.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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