Australia Network
English Bites

Print | Close


print friendly page for http://australianetwork.com/englishbites/stories/s1507021.htm

29 November 2005

Seed Bank

Meet some botanists working on a worldwide project to find and save seeds from 24,000 plant species.


JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: This is one of the easier days at the office for seed collector Micah Visoiu. His target is within arm's reach.

MICAH VISOIU, TASMANIAN NATURE CONSERVATION BRANCH: We've been collecting some Allocasuarina. That's a pretty easy one to collect because it's got fairly large sort of cone-type structures that it keeps its seeds in.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Seeds and samples from more than half the native flora of Tasmania are being rounded up as part of the island state's deposit into a visionary global seed bank.

MICAH VISOIU: Over the course of the project we're aiming to collect between 800 and 1,000 species. Each of those collections is, ultimately we will collect 20,000 from each species, but that's going to be impossible for a lot of different species.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Saving species from extinction is the motivation for the painstaking, often tedious seed harvesting now under way in every state of Australia and also in the drylands of at least 20 other countries around the world. It's a crusade led by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the UK. By 2010, it wants 24,000 species locked up in safekeeping here at West Sussex.

Salinity and land clearing are major threats to plant species in Australia. In the west, botanists have also been battling to protect species doomed by phytopphthora, a fungal infection which attacks root systems. Western Australia's existing seed collection and conservation programs have been accelerated by the partnership with Kew. It's going to contribute 2,000 species. Nearly half has already been tagged and bagged.

DAVID COATES: If anything ever happens to the seed in one spot, you have a backup for the material.

Ultimately, of course, this material - although it will be stored for perhaps a long period of time - will be placed back either for reintroductions of some of the rare and threatened species or it'll be used in revegetation programs.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Kew's wish list is for 7,000 species from Australia. Its multi-million dollar funding for collection and research is expected to significantly improve Australian vegetation management.

DAVID COATES: It's sort of the ultimate in terms of the sort of work we do. I guess many of us have spent our lives looking at declining populations, declining species in the south-west or in Western Australia or even in Australia. Now we're looking at trying to actually reintroduce things and recreating what's been removed and what's been destroyed, and I suppose that's the ultimate challenge for us.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: And for those species not yet on the brink of extinction, this project appears the best form of insurance.

MARK FOUNTAIN, ROYAL TASMANIAN BOTANIC GARDENS: It's a bit like a Noah's Ark for plants, yeah, that's a good way of putting it.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: Kew's first order of Tasmanian endemic seeds is being processed at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Manager Mark Fountain says the global conservation project has created a radical local learning curve.

MARK FOUNTAIN: Every plant presents its own problems in terms of extraction and storage, so we've got a lot to learn really.

JOCELYN NETTLEFOLD: The more immediate challenge, though, is tracking down all those different types of seed, some of them minuscule. At last count, Micah Visoiu had at least 750 samples waiting out there in the bush. But he's inspired by the chase.

MICAH VISOIU: Some of the seeds I collect may still be around in a couple of hundred years. It's gonna be such a brilliant resource.


story notes

Allocasuarina
Allocasurina is the official genus name for a number of species of trees with needle-like leaves and small cones that are commonly called she-oaks.


flora
Flora refers to plants.

Example: The flora of Madagascar is unique.

rounded up
To round up means to find and group together.

Example: We should round up all of the rabbits in the park.
For more meanings of the phrasal verb round up, follow the link.
more information: round up

island state
The island state is an informal name for Tasmania because itís the only state of Australia that is an island.

deposit
To deposit usually means to put money into a bank. Here, they are putting seeds into the seed bank.

seed bank
Here, a bank is a supply or a stock for future use. So a seed bank is a store or supply of seeds saved for future use.

we're
We're is the contracted form of we are. Be careful not to confuse this with the word pronounced the same way, where. Follow the link to find out more.
more information: where & we're

species
A species is a particiular type of animal or plant.

Example: The Javan rhinoceros is the rarest species of rhinoceros.

extinction
Extinction refers to the state of no longer existing. An animal or plant that no longer exists is extinct.

Example: The dodo is extinct.

painstaking
If something is painstaking, it must be done very carefully and with a lot of effort. Itís not a quick or easy task.

tedious
If something is tedious it is slow and boring.

harvesting
collecting

under way
Something that is under way has started.

Example: The game was already under way when we arrived at the stadium.

led
Here led is the past participle of the irregular verb lead.
more information: lead

botanists
Botanists are people who study plants or the science of botany. Notice the use of the -ist suffix to form personal nouns. Follow the link to find out more.
more information: -ist suffix

backup
A backup is a second copy of something. Itís kept in case something happens to the original copy.

either / or
He uses the words either and orto show that there is a choice of two options.

Example: will be placed back either for reintroductions of some of the rare and threatened species or it'll be used in revegetation programs.

reintroductions
Reintroduction means to the process of introducing again. In this case, it means to return members of a species into an area where the species used to live.
Notice that the re- prefix is used to mean again.
more information: re- prefix

revegetation programs
Vegetation means plants. Revegetation means the process of planting new plants in a place. It refers to planting new trees in an area where the plants have been damaged or destroyed.


wish list
A wish list is all of the things that you desire or want to happen. You don't expect to get everything on a wish list.

Example: Let's put together a wish list and discuss it at the meeting.
Click here for more idioms and common expressions.

on the brink of extinction
The word brink refers to the edge of something. Itís the limit beyond which something new or different begins.To be on the brink of extinction means to be on the edge of extinction or to be about to become extinct.

Example: The Javan rhinoceros is on the brink of extinction.

Noah's Ark
This means a way of saving plants and animals from extinction. Noah's Ark is the boat in a Bible story that is used to save all the animals in the world from a gigantic flood.

tracking down
To track down something is to search for it.

Example: It took a long time to track down the book I was looking for.