The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats.
This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.
When I envision biodiversity conservation, I think of the outdoors: planting trees, surveying for animals, and listening for frogs in the cool twilight hours.
What didn’t come to mind was the importance of genetic diversity, and how I could possibly contribute to this cause as a volunteer.
Yet genes are one of the three fundamental levels of biodiversity. In the fight to conserve biodiversity in our ever-degrading world, the protection of genetic diversity is fundamental to ensuring the prevention of genetic bottlenecks and extinctions. The conservation of flora in particular is crucial for the ongoing preservation of ecosystem structure, climate and carbon regulation, habitat provision for wildlife, and as a resource for human use.
The quandong (Santalum acuminatum) is one of the many rare species of flora that are declining in central Australia. Known for its distinctive bright-red edible fruits, wild populations of the quandong are becoming increasingly isolated, resulting in a lack of seed recruitment and natural regeneration.
Within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, there are a mere 8 healthy individuals remaining. Significant threatening processes to the quandong include inappropriate fire regimes, weed invasion, human interference and damage, and enhanced grazing pressures from rabbits and camels, keen to eat to the sweet fruit.
Enter the National Seed Bank.
Situated within the Australian National Botanical Gardens, the National Seed Bank is responsible for the storage and supply of seed collections, ecological and biological research of seeds and plants, and the propagation of seedlings for research and transplanting, within the Botanical Gardens and beyond.
My project worked on a number of accessions of quandong seed obtained from the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The aim was to germinate as many seedlings as possible for translocation back to the Park, in an attempt to rehabilitate dwindling quandong populations.
The process included researching prior germination methods for the species, recording seed details, preparing the seed for germination, and photographing the resultant seed variation.
A float test was conducted to verify the viability of the prepared seeds. Viable seeds were then treated in a water bath for 18 hours at 60oC, packed in tubes of sphagnum moss, and placed the incubator to germinate. Every week, the seeds were assessed for germination, a process that can take a number of weeks.
Should this project prove successful, it has the potential to set a standard for future quandong germination and rehabilitation. However, as the weeks tick on, and we are still awaiting germination, there has been concern that the seed has become sterile, been incorrectly stored, or are not viable.
Although the concept of translocation is a common method of vegetation rehabilitation, this project has highlighted the difficulties in germinating some forms of seed, which we often take for granted when planting seedlings. While the germination is still continuing, it may help to inform future conservation methods of the quandong, and the conservation of other difficult, but vitally important, native flora.
And for all those out there who are curious about the uses of the quandong fruit, the following video even has a recipe for quandong pie!
By Madeleine Hearnden u5023546