Ex situ germplasm collections of exceptional species are a vital part of the conservation of Australia's national plant treasures

Amelia J. Martyn Yenson, Karen D. Sommerville, Lydia K. Guja, David J. Merritt, Emma L. Dalziell, Tony D. Auld, Linda Broadhurst, David J. Coates, Lucy Commander, Andrew D. Crawford, Nathan J. Emery, Bryn Funnekotter, Zoe Knapp, Robert O. Makinson, Leonie Monks, Damian Wrigley, Catherine A. Offord

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Societal Impact Statement: Conservation seed banks maintain collections of many seed-bearing plant species, providing germplasm and data to support management of wild populations. However, a proportion of plant species produce seeds that are difficult to collect, dry, store and utilise; these are known as ‘exceptional’ species. Here we tested a framework for identifying exceptional species, to document examples and provide case studies within the Australian flora. We present a workflow that may be used to identify additional exceptional species, and direct efforts to establish appropriate collection types (seeds and/or living collections, tissue culture or cryopreservation) for their ex situ conservation. Summary: Seed banking is well established to contribute to the conservation of many seed-bearing plant species ex situ for future use in restoration, translocation, agriculture and horticulture. In Australia, over 67% of currently listed threatened plants are represented in conservation seed banks. However, there are challenges to conserving the full extent of plant diversity in seed banks, with growing recognition that we need to think beyond conventional seed banking methods to conserve ‘exceptional’ plant species that are difficult to collect, store and germinate. We examine how the framework for identification of such species can be applied to the Australian flora, using examples from the recently published guidelines for ‘Plant Germplasm Conservation in Australia’ and case studies and data arising from the Australian Academy of Science Fenner Conference on the Environment ‘Exceptional Times, Exceptional Plants’. We present a workflow to assist conservation decision-makers and practitioners in identifying exceptional species and overcoming barriers to storage of germplasm, enabling appropriate ex situ collection types to be established via seeds, living collections, tissue culture, cryopreservation or a combination of these. Australia's seed conservation sector continues to expand, with increasing expertise, facilities and networks established to conserve a diversity of plant species; however, resolving the challenges relating to each exceptionality factor requires significantly more time, labour and collaboration than current capacity allows. Understanding the barriers to conservation and production of healthy plants, via germination or other methods of propagation, is a critical component of conserving species long-term and ultimately returning plants to the landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-66
Number of pages23
JournalPlants People Planet
Issue number1
Early online date12 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


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