PNG joins Aust-based plant bank

Business, Normal

The National,Friday13January 2012

PAPUA New Guinea will be among Southeast Asia and Pacific nations which will contribute seeds to the largest seed bank in the southern hemisphere currently under construction at the Australian Botanical Garden.
PlantBank will accept seed donations with the intention of preserving species that might be impacted by climate change.
‘’With sea levels rising, they are the areas where the impacts of those changes are biggest,’’ director of science at the Australian Botanic Garden, Dr Brett Summerell said.
PlantBank, when completed, can hold up to 200 million living seeds in what had been referred to as an insurance policy against the extinction of plant species.
“There are all of these threats happening all the time – climate change, new diseases … land clearing … and that is why you want to have this back-up measure,’’ the director of science at the Australian Botanic Garden, Brett Summerell, said.
“We want to have collections that represent the whole genetic spectrum, so if something do happen, you can … reintroduce the whole genetic range of the species.’’
The United Nations Environment Programme identified Australia as one of 12 mega diverse countries, with more than 85% of Australia’s plants unique to the Australian landscape.
The A$19.8 million facility will have seeds or live tissue from all 25,000 plant species in Australia.
“This bank really matters because if a species becomes extinct, no amount of money and no government on Earth can bail it out,” the Minister for the Environment Robyn Parker said at the commencement ceremony yesterday.
“When we lose species, we lose threads in the web of life and untold potential for human health and well being.’’
Seeds from species such as wattles and gums will be kept at a temperature of either four degrees or minus 20 degrees.
A second space kept at a temperature of minus 196 degrees will be used for rainforest species that are harder to store.
The co-ordinators of PlantBank had been searching for financial support for more than 10 years.
The NSW government had pledged A$15.5 million in funding for the facility, a move Dr Summerell suggested could be in response to the growing concern regarding climate change among the general public.
‘’I think there’s an acceptance that the environmental risks we’re facing are much more significant, so I assume that’s part of the reason why,’’ he said.