Monday, November 24, 2008

Gardens create national safety net for plants in peril

BOTANIC gardens have joined forces to save Australian plants from the perils of climate change by creating a national seed bank, which could be used to reintroduce extinct species into the wild.

As environments change faster than species can adapt, iconic Australian plants such as some banksias could cease to exist in the wild.

In a ground-breaking initiative, Australia's botanic gardens yesterday released a national action plan to conserve species in danger of extinction from climate change.

Under the plan, a nationally co-ordinated seed bank of plant species will be established, to provide a safety net for Australia's plant species.

The action plan says climate change is a major new challenge for botanic gardens, with the early impacts already having a significant impact on where plant species can live.

"Montane rainforests, alpine regions, wet tropics, coastal and freshwater wetlands, heathlands and coral reefs will be among the most vulnerable systems," the action plan says.

"Depending partly on the rate and extent of climate change, and partly on adaptive management measures, some species will become extinct and the range of others will be severely depleted."

Of Australia's known plant species, 7 per cent are considered threatened or vulnerable and represent 15 per cent of the world's threatened plant species.

The report said that while the nation's botanic gardens already had significant seed and gene banks and living collections, which were vitally important, there had been no national co-ordination. About 3800 Australian species have already been collected in seed banks, including 1281 threatened species.

Under the plan, botanic gardens would also provide information to scientists and the public about where plants grow in the wild, their vulnerability to climate change, the risk of weeds and disease and how to grow them outside their natural ranges.

Botanic gardens would also monitor the long-term responses of plants to climate change, and increase visitors' understanding of climate change and what could be done to abate it.

Australia's eight capital city and 150 regional botanic gardens attract 13 million visitors a year, with 41 per cent of Australian adults going every year. Botanic gardens are the second most visited places in the country after cinemas.

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