James Lange and Jennifer Possley, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
In the event of a hurricane, low elevation and proximity to the coast place Fairchild at high risk, and thus contingency plans must be in place to preserve our ex situ collections. Anticipating severe damage and extended power loss from Hurricane Irma, we took several measures to protect our conservation collections. We will discuss actions taken by conservation staff and lessons learned from this unique storm.
I visited NLGRP in Fort Collins this week, and they showed me their new microscope software (for their Keyence microscope) that had lots of fun bells and whistles including software that has promise for counting seeds and pollen through the microscope. Does anyone currently use digitial seed counting as part of their currently seed bank methodology? I'm mostly curious if anyone has worked through all the hiccups and actually put it into practice.
The Hawaiian flora represents ~45% of all plants listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as threatened or endangered. The Lyon Arboretum's Seed Conservation Laboratory (Lyon S.C.L.) conserves many of these imperiled plants through conventional seed banking. However, the seeds of many rare Hawaiian plants have never been formally described or photographed. Receiving fruit and seed collections from collectors across the Hawaiian Islands presents staff with a unique opportunity to document characteristics of these seeds through photography. Initially, we used a digital SLR camera to photograph incoming fruit and seed collections, but encountered challenges in accurately capturing the details of very small seeds. With limited knowledge of microscope photography and a modest budget, we decided to investigate a setup that could be utilized for seed photography. After some research into different brands and models, we decided on an Olympus SZ61 stereo microscope, with an LW Scientific Inc. MiniVid camera, and ToupTek's ToupView version 3.7 software. Using this microscope-camera setup we have captured more than 500 images of Hawaiian seeds representing over 150 taxa, including many C.P.C. sponsored species. As new material comes into the Lyon S.C.L., we continue to add new species to our seed photo collection and are working towards making these photos available to students and researchers through an online platform.
Blowout penstemon (Penstemon haydenii) is a critically imperiled (G1) plant listed as an endangered species by the USFWS. It is presently known from ten occurrences in the Nebraska Sandhills and three in the Ferris Dunes of Wyoming. This species is associated with areas of active wind erosion within a grassland matrix. The dynamic, transitory nature of this habitat can result in natural population decline in response to changes in microhabitat conditions and associated vegetation cover. The geographic isolation of such habitat limits recruitment from other occurrences, increasing vulnerability to local extinction. Recent surveys in Nebraska and Wyoming suggest substantial population declines. Lauritzen Gardens is undertaking a seed banking effort for blowout penstemon that entails a systematic, range-wide sampling of as many extant populations as is logistically possible and biologically prudent. This project presents many challenges, particularly since most blowout penstemon populations occur in remote locations on privately-owned ranches. Complications include obtaining landowner contact information in a sparsely-populated region, securing permission to access private property, and reaching remote occurrences in difficult terrain. Meeting these challenges has required careful relationship-building with government agencies, NGOs, knowledgeable researchers, landowners, land managers, and other partners.
Kim Taylor, Botanical Research Institute of Texas / Fort Worth Botanic Garden
The Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) is in the process of constructing a seed conservation laboratory and seed bank. While BRIT has been active in conservation for decades and has partnered with regional seed banks to conserve rare species, BRIT has never had a dedicated seed laboratory on site. The goal of the BRIT Seed Conservation Laboratory will be to collect and maintain ex situ collections for all rare plant taxa occurring in Texas. In order to equip the laboratory with the appropriate equipment and begin a strategic plan to collect all rare Texas taxa, we first need to understand the seed storage behavior of the taxa of concern. An assessment of the seed storage behavior of 449 vascular plant taxa listed by Texas Parks and Wildlife as Species of Greatest Conservation Need will be discussed, including how the results impacted design of the BRIT seed bank.
Recently updated Best Plant Conservation Practices to Support Species Survival in the Wild detail guidelines for seed collection of rare plants. These include multiple aspects to consider in making seed collections regarding target species characteristics, collection timing, seed collection amount, population genetics and maintaining site quality. Here we outline seed collections for two species for which exceptional situations required special considerations for project success. We explore the use of the Best Practices for seed collections of 1) Phemeranthus piedmontanus (Piedmont fameflower), a species with a small population, identification challenges, and the need for multiple visits to sensitive habitat and 2) Macbridea caroliniana (Carolina birds-in-a-nest)¸ where sequential seed set, distance to the field site and a hurricane presented collection challenges.
Alpine plants are at risk of population decline and/or extinction due to climate change. Understanding these plants and the environments in which they survive and thrive involves a multi-tiered approach including in-situ and ex-situ efforts. At Denver Botanic Gardens we are working to collect and study seed of alpine species for ex-situ conservation. Expanding our impact on conservation of alpine habitats, we have partnered with Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to lead the development of a North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Alpine Plant Conservation. Modeled after the North American Botanic Garden Strategy for Plant Conservation and the larger Global Strategy for Plant Conservation, the four objectives and twelve targets presented here will guide collaborative efforts to document, study, and ultimately conserve our fragile North American alpine habitats.
Conservation seed collections support species’ survival by acting as an insurance policy in the face of extinction. They can also provide resources for research, restoration and reintroduction. A high-quality conservation seed collection has both depth and breadth – capturing genetic diversity within and geographic diversity among populations. Collecting and storing seeds by maternal line (i.e., seeds from a single individual plant represent one maternal line) provides depth to conservation collections. Previous research has suggested that collecting from 50 maternal lines throughout the geographic extent of a given population increases the odds of capturing the majority of the genetic diversity within that population. Capturing the maximum amount of genetic diversity possible from each population increases the integrity of a conservation collection. Further, keeping maternal lines separate ensures that each line can be equally represented in restoration and reintroduction efforts. Separating seeds by maternal line also creates opportunities for future research, especially when questions center on genetic differences within and between populations. When bulk collections are made, there is only a small chance that each maternal line will be represented when a subsample of the collection is removed for use and valuable information is lost. Although collecting by maternal lines makes seed collection and cleaning more complicated, the amount of information that is retained increases the value of the collection and makes the effort worthwhile.
Our growth chamber broke recently and we're hoping to replace it with something cost-affordable, reliable and not too big for our relatively small space. It will sit in a room shared with seed processing equipment (and people), a biomass oven and is used with some frequency.