New techniques will help save threatened Australian rainforest species, especially those vulnerable to myrtle rust. While most seeds dry well and can be seed-banked against future environmental loss, those with fleshy fruits like 30% of Australia’s rainforest species cannot. A grant from the UK-based Arcadia fund, will help NSW’s PlantBank research tissue culture & cryopreservation methods.
Australian Rainforest Seed Conservation Project scientist, Graeme Errington, says that without urgent action myrtle rust could wipe out entire species like Rhodamnia from the rainforests of northern NSW, as plants completely defoliate, preventing effective flowering and fruit set. Without urgent action, they could soon be extinct in the wild, so these threatened plants will be a priority for the first field mission this month, which will be assisted by local botanists and National Parks & Wildlife Service staff.
Seeds need to have their moisture content reduced by 3-7% to make freezing viable, otherwise ice crystals form, damaging the seed, so each species needs to be individually tested to make sure viable seed or propagation material is being preserved for the future. Seeds, plant cells, tissue and embryos could all potentially be stored in liquid nitrogen in the PlantBank at Mt Annan Botanic Gardens.
RBG Executive Director, Professor David Mabberley, says the research will help Australia conserve its amazing biodiversity (about 8% of the world’s plants) and assist other Asia-Pacific countries with their own rainforest flora.