threatened species, threatened
communities and biodiversity hotspots
South Coast Natural Resource Management Inc. and
Prepared by Anne Cochrane
Department of Environment and Conservation
Western Australian Herbarium
Kensington Western Australia 6983
Department of Environment and Conservation
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In 2005 the South Coast Natural Resource Management Inc. secured regional
competitive component funding from the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust
for a three-year project for the Western Australian Department of Environment and
Conservation (DEC) to coordinate seed conservation activities for listed threatened
species and ecological communities and for Commonwealth identified national
biodiversity hotspots in Western Australia (Project 033146).
This project implemented an integrated and consistent approach to collecting seeds of
existing seed conservation activities thereby contributing to Western Australian plant
conservation and recovery programs. The primary goal of the project was to increase the
level of protection of native flora by obtaining seeds for long term conservation of 300
species. The project was successful and 571 collections were made. The project
achieved its goals by using existing skills, data, centralised seed banking facilities and
international partnerships that the DEC’s Threatened Flora Seed Centre already had in
place. In addition to storage of seeds at the Threatened Flora Seed Centre, 199
duplicate samples were dispatched under a global seed conservation partnership to the
Millennium Seed Bank in the UK for further safe-keeping. Herbarium voucher specimens
for each collection have been lodged with the State herbarium in Perth, Western
Australia. The information is accessible through Florabase
The project was able to assist in the implementation of fundamental recovery processes
reintroductions and by providing insurance against loss of plant species in the wild.
Investigations into seed germination contributed to an understanding of the biology of
the species, knowledge that underpins successful plant recovery and revegetation.
This project provided training to community members and other stakeholders in correct
The project produced a number of awareness raising and promotional products, in
addition to popular and scientific articles and conference presentations on seed
conservation and its role in supporting the survival of plant species in the wild.
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One in five of the 13,000 species, subspecies and varieties of plant life found in Western
Australia are of conservation concern. The majority of this flora occurs in the South West
of the State, an area recognised as the only global biodiversity hotspot in Australia due
to the rich diversity of plant life and the high level of threat facing that flora. A legacy of
land clearing has resulted in substantial habitat fragmentation and salinisation of the
landscape. Grazing by introduced herbivores, frequent fire and weed invasion further
threaten already degraded landscapes. The introduced water mould, Phytophthora
of biodiversity is projected under future climate change scenarios. Conserving
ecosystems in a changing environment will be a challenge. Where habitats are in
immediate danger of destruction, and where on ground actions cannot guarantee
species survival, the collection and maintenance of plant material from the wild becomes
necessary, acting as insurance.
Seeds are nature’s genetic storehouse and are a ready source of plant material for
depleted populations. Conserving seeds off site represents a means of saving vital
natural resources for the future. It is a complementary approach to on ground actions
and a cost effective and efficient way to conserve genetic diversity. Good quality
collections with a broad genetic base are required to reinforce and benefit species
survival. Under some scenarios, seed conservation is the only realistic tool for some of
our most at risk species.
This multi-regional, multi-year approach to delivering a major biodiversity conservation
and making available material for recovery actions and seed research. Conservation of
seed material provides insurance against loss of important flora in the wild and provides
genetic material for its future use in reintroduction and restoration. Studies aimed to
improve knowledge of seed biology, ecology and threatening processes underpin the
management and conservation of plant species and lead to better on ground outcomes
for the public benefit.
This project was linked to a global seed conservation partnership between the Western
Bank, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew UK where duplicate collections of seeds were sent
for safe keeping.
Using existing skills, data and facilities this key investment area was met. A target of 300
native plant species was set at the onset of the project and between 2005 and 2008 571
collections (428 species and subspecies – see Appendix 1) were incorporated into, and
are being actively managed in, DEC’s seed conservation facility in Perth (Threatened
Flora Seed Centre). This facility and its staff use internationally accepted genebanks
standards for seed collection and storage (low temperature and low moisture). Sixty-two
per cent of the collections made (230 taxa) are conservation-listed in Western Australia
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and include 163 Declared Rare flora collections, 192 Priority flora collections and 217
Communities and Biodiversity Hotspots. In total 428 taxa from 45 families and113
genera were collected from across the six NRM regions in Western Australia. Although
only one half of the collections have been processed to date these collections amount to
more than 10.5 kilograms of seeds (> 7 million individual seeds). All seed collections
made through this project were accompanied by an herbarium voucher specimen that
has been lodged at the Western Australian Herbarium. Details of these specimens can
be accessed through the Department of Environment and Conservation herbarium
database Florabase (http://florabase.dec.wa.gov.au/). Duplicate samples of 199 of these
collections were dispatched to the Millennium Seed Bank at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Kew United Kingdom for safe-keeping under an existing Access and Benefit Sharing
Agreement between the Western Australian government and Kew.
This project assisted the Western Australian government through DEC’s Threatened
the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. The goals of this target are ’60 per cent of
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Table1. Collections by NRM Region
Seeds from a number of threatened flora collected through this project were provided for
been planted into a ‘seed orchard’ in the South Coast Region. The fourth was planted
into a reserve in the Avon Region. These plantings have contributed to increased
protection of these species through increase in numbers of on ground plants and an
accumulation of knowledge regarding their biology and ecology.
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a departmental database. Information on fruit and seed production, population health
and size, phenology and descriptions of fruit and seeds are data that assist our
knowledge and understanding of native flora that lead to a better conservation outcome.
Albany Rare Flora Recovery team assisting DEC scientists with Banksia brownii.
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Herbivore-proofing seedlings of Banksia brownii after reintroduction into a new
safe location near Albany in the SCNRM Region.
3. Improvement in understanding biological processes
Germination trials for species collected through this project are providing information on
seed dormancy and germination characteristics, information that is essential for
achieving successful recovery and restoration of native species. Quality assessment has
been made for more than 50% of collections – this is an ongoing process as is the
monitoring of seed viability over time.
All seedlings derived from the routine germination investigations, and not required in on
ground recovery actions, have been screened by DEC scientists for their response to
inoculation with the dieback disease Phytophthora cinnamomi in order to gain an
understanding of species susceptibility to the deadly disease. The results of these tests
provide vitally important information for land managers. Susceptible species can be
targeted for spraying with the fungicide Phosphite to prevent their decline in areas
infested with the disease. Appropriate measures to control disease incursions can be
adopted to help prevent species extinction and hygiene protocols can be implemented
on site. This is particularly pertinent in the South Coast, South West and Swan Regions.
Recent laboratory investigations on seeds collected through this project have provided
growth in order to predict species potentially at risk of extinction due to climate change.
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4. Skills & training
Through this project both formal and informal training was provided by project staff
(project manager and project officers) for interested stakeholders.
seed conservation training module within the DEC Flora Management Course for
government employees involved in flora conservation. This course has recently become
nationally recognised by becoming aligned to the TAFE Unit of Competency ‘Monitor
Biodiversity’ and contributes to a Certificate IV in Conservation and Land Management.
These government employees will in turn be able to pass on their knowledge and skills
to community members in their own Regions throughout the State. A formal training day
in seed collection and conservation was provided to members of the Friends of William
Bay National Park and three government staff in 2004.
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stakeholders in seed collection activities has been an ongoing process for this project.
Training varied from a single days on ground activities to a seven day intensive
collection training in the field. Participants have ranged from members of the Wildflower
Society of Western Australia, an indigenous cadet, an overseas student, members of the
Badjaling Aboriginal Community, mining employees and government flora officers from
5. Public awareness and communications
contact with seed collection volunteers and through seed collection training (as above)
has increased the profile of seed conservation within the community. Progress in
communication with the mining industry yielded considerable awareness and support for
seed conservation activities in some regions. Specific products, articles and
presentations produced as a result of this project are detailed below, in addition to other
products produced for seed conservation activities in general:
Seed Conservation brochure 2006.
Network for Plant Conservation national conference 2008.
Seed Conservation fridge magnet 2008.
• Cochrane A, Crawford A, Monks L 2007 Achieving Target 8 of the GSPC in Western
Australia. Samara 13, 11-12.
• Cochrane A 2008 Preserving our flora’s future. LANDSCOPE 23 (3), 17-21.
These articles detail the good news that seed conservation in Western Australia has
helped to achieve global targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity through
the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation and specifically mentions the role that the
South Coast NRM plays in supporting seed conservation in Western Australia.
• Cochrane A, Crawford A, Monks L 2005 The significance of ex situ conservation to
plant recovery in Southern Australia. Paper presented to the international Advances
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in plant conservation biology: implications for flora management and restoration
conference Perth, Western Australia 25-27 October 2005.
• Cochrane A, Daws M 2007 Temperature limits to recruitment in narrow range
endemics in south west Western Australia. Paper presented to the international
‘Seed Ecology’ conference in Perth, Australia September 6-13, 2007.
• Barrett S, Cochrane A 2007 Conservation in action: recovery of threatened flora in
South West Western Australia. Paper presented to the Biodiversity Extinction Crisis.
Biology Australasia) Sydney July 2007
• Anon 2008 Tackling Threats to Plant Diversity on the South Coast of Western
Australia. Poster paper presented at the Our Declining Flora – Tackling the Threats
Australian Network for Plant Conservation national forum, Sydney, Australia 21-24
These presentations at national and international conferences helped foster an
• Barrett S, Cochrane A 2007 Population demography and seed bank dynamics of the
threatened obligate seeding shrub Grevillea maxwellii McGill (Proteaceae). Journal of
• Cochrane A, Crawford A, Monks L 2007 The significance of ex situ seed
conservation to threatened plant reintroduction. Australian Journal of Botany 55, 356-
• Wildflower Society Western Australia (Albany)
• WA Chief Scientist (Dr Lynn Beazley)
Attendance and presentations at Albany and Esperance Rare Flora Recovery Team
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Products, services and other activities
This project built capacity for those involved through publicity, training and awareness
raising of seed conservation issues in Western Australia, including formal seed
conservation. Project planning included compilation of data for targeted species
(includes herbarium specimens and associated herbarium collection information,
taxonomic descriptions, rare flora report forms) and production of maps highlighting
those species within targeted collection areas. Assessment of health and reproductive
status of threatened and other significant flora on site and quality assessment of seed
collections through laboratory studies was a major service of this Project. On ground
works other than seed collection included some botanical survey that identified new
populations of conservation-listed species and discovery of potentially new species.
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Some of the lessons learnt through this project include the need for early identification of
threatened species status to maximise diversity so that collections can be made before
population size and genetic diversity decline. This is particularly important in areas
where pathogens threaten the survival of plant diversity. Meeting conservation goals
without impacting on wild populations is an on-going challenge. Whilst many collections
made during the course of this project are quite small, they still provide material that can
prove vital for long term species survival.