In the recent break I spent several days (8th, 12th and 13th Sept) volunteering at the Seed Bank in the Australian National Botanic Gardens (ANBG). The main function of the Seed Bank is storing seeds for conservation, undertaking native seed research, supplying the ANBG with seeds and supplying seeds to other organisations for research (ANBG, 2011). While the Seed Bank contains many different collections, there has been a large focus on collecting endemic plant species from local alpine, subalpine and grassland communities (ANBG, 2011).
During my time at the Seed Bank I mainly worked with Pomaderris Cotoneaster, an endangered native shrub species that is being stored by the Seed Bank for research, conservation of the species and possibly in the future grow seedlings that may be re-established in their original ecosystems. Along with storing the seeds, the Seed Bank is conducting ecological assessments on the species and the University of Wollongong is conducting germination tests.
As part of the storage and ecological assessment, I conducted 1000 seed counts on P. Cotoneaster, which determines the average weight of seeds from individual P. Cotoneaster plants and provides information about the health of the species. For these 1000 seed counts, the seeds were separated by a machine into five samples of 50 seeds each, which are then weighed and recorded. These weights are then added together, divided by 250 and multiplied by 1000, providing the 1000 seed weight.
After the 1000 seed counts I tested the relative humidity (RH) of the seeds to ensure that it was low enough for storage (around 5% RH). I then vacuum packed and labelled the seeds, after which they were placed in the freezer with Silica gel. The Silica gel is a desiccant, meaning it absorbs moisture, maintaining the seed relative humidity for storage.
After storing the P. Cotoneaster seeds I began working with seeds from Kakadu National Park that had been stored in the cold room. Due to the size and irregular shapes of these species the counting had to be conducted by hand, something that really makes you appreciate the counting machine. After the rest of the Kakadu seeds are counted and weighed, germination tests will be conducted to assess if the seeds are able to germinate.
Volunteering at the seed bank allowed me to experience real world conservation and research, all within the beautiful ANBG. Along with my experience was made great by the numerous people who work and volunteer at the seed bank were lovely and very happy to share their knowledge. While seed counting can seem a monotonous task and can make you feel crazy after hand counting a few thousand, the biodiversity conservation value gained from it makes it worthwhile, and I’m excited to return to the Seed Bank over the next few weeks to participate in the germination of the Kakadu seeds.
Australian National Botanic Gardens, 2011. The National Seed Bank. Available at: http://www.anbg.gov.au/gardens/living/seedbank/ (accessed 15th September 2016).