Saving seeds the right way can save the world's plants

Jul 30, 2014
Saving seeds the right way can save the world's plants

Exotic pests, shrinking ranges and a changing climate threaten some of the world's most rare and ecologically important plants, and so conservationists establish seed collections to save the seeds in banks or botanical gardens in hopes of preserving some genetic diversity.

For decades, these seed collections have been guided by simple models that offer a one-size-fits-all approach for how many seeds to gather, such as recommending saving 50 seed samples regardless of species' pollination mode, growth habitat and population size.

A new study, however, has found that more careful tailoring of seed collections to specific species and situations is critical to preserving . Once seeds are saved, they can be reintroduced for planting in suitable locations if conditions are favorable.

In the study, researchers from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis and the University of Tennessee used a novel approach called simulation-based planning to make several new sampling recommendations, confirming that a uniform approach to seed sampling is ineffective.

First, collectors must choose their plant populations from a wide area rather than a restricted one. Sampling widely can capture up to nearly 200 percent more rare genes than restricted sampling.

In addition, in most situations, collecting from about 25 maternal plants per population versus 50 plants appears to capture the vast majority of genetic variation.

The study also showed that for many species, collecting more than eight to ten seeds per plant leads to high overlap in and would thus be an excess of effort.

Increasing concerns over agriculture and food security as well as an increasing recognition of how fast biodiversity is disappearing has prompted seed banks to ramp up their collections. By the same token, botanic gardens that were once more focused on showcasing plants are now increasingly having a conservation mission too, according to the study's lead author Sean Hoban, a postdoctoral fellow at NIMBioS.

"Our approach can be used to further refine seed collection guidelines, which could lead to much more efficient and effective collections, allowing us to preserve more diversity of the world's plants. These collections could benefit future ecosystem restoration projects as well as improve agricultural and forestry efforts," Hoban said.

Hoban and his colleagues are now working on ways to custom-tailor to particular species' dispersal, mating system and biology.

The study was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

Explore further: With climate changing, Southern plants do better than Northern locals

More information: Biological Conservation 177: 90-99. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2014.06.014.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Feeding the future using seed banks

Jul 19, 2013

Better use of the world's seed banks could help provide a practical solution to future food shortages, according to an article in Nature, co-authored by a Natural History Museum scientist.

Seed workshop bears conservation fruitsĀ 

Apr 07, 2014

Researchers have pooled their expertise to investigate factors that affect the survival of seeds, resulting in a framework that can help both eradicate weeds and maintain desirable plant populations.

Seeds keep vital much longer when stored without oxygen

Jul 28, 2014

If seed breeding companies, gene banks and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault on Spitsbergen should store plant seeds under oxygen-poor conditions, it would be possible to store them for much longer while still ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Recommended for you

Warming world may spell bad news for honey bees

11 hours ago

Researchers have found that the spread of an exotic honey bee parasite -now found worldwide - is linked not only to its superior competitive ability, but also to climate, according to a new study published ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.