After catastrophic bushfires swept through Namadgi National Park last summer, work behind the scenes is ensuring the ACT’s native plant species aren’t lost in the aftermath.
Located at the National Botanic Gardens, the National Seed Bank is home to some 7700 seeds from 4000 different plants, but with the current facility at capacity a new building is on the way.
Botanic Gardens executive director Judy West said the centre conserved Australia’s native plant species, in some cases for hundreds of years.
A team of biologists, curators and volunteers collect seeds and work to understand how they germinate in order to protect those threatened by urban sprawl, natural disasters and increasingly by climate change.
The current bank is home to two-thirds of every plant species in the ACT and hundreds more from across Namadgi and Kosciusko National Parks and neighbouring coastal grasslands.
“We target species that are known to be threatened or might be threatened,” Dr West said.
In the aftermath of summer’s bushfires, hundreds of plants left under severe threat have been put under the microscope.
Dr West said although some species thrived after fires, others floundered.
“Many species will germinate following a fire, other species have to shoot from the plant itself and many of them have been burnt by high-intensity fires, they can’t shoot entirely,” Dr West said.
“Those species we’ve had to look at.”
Seeds are collected from the firegrounds and experiments are conducted to determine what would trigger each plant to grow.
“[We’re] working out how the species germinate, working out the cues in nature so we try to recreate that.”
Dr West said the biggest threats to flora in the ACT was people, particularly urban development.
“That’s why the fires in Namadgi were so critical because it’s a really big part of the ACT’s conservation and that was a very hot fire,” she said.
A new National Seed Bank facility will be built at the National Botanic Gardens in the coming years to house thousands more species.
“The new facility will include integrated seed drying rooms, incubation space for germination testing and improved laboratories with greater research capacity,” Dr West said.
“The current National Seed Bank cannot accommodate our collection and research targets. The new facility will increase our capacity to store more native Australia plant seeds for longer.”
Dr West said the improved centre would help scientists learn more about species reproduction.
She said it was a critical aspect of the work, as the process was not understood for up to 75 per cent of Australian flora.
Construction of the new facility is expected to begin at the end of 2021 and be completed by 2022.
Designs for the new facility, from Canberra’s Guida Moseley Brown Architects, will likely be ready by March.