Friday, April 16, 2010

Native Seed Banking

The Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank at the Chicago Botanic Garden is working to conserve the genetic diversity of our native vascular flora by collecting and preserving seeds from across the tallgrass prairie region in long-term cold storage. Banking seeds is an efficient way to preserve plant populations because seeds store the breadth of genetic diversity present in a population in small packages and, for most species, can do so for a very long time. These tiny packages once dried to15% humidity and stored at -20ยบ C can be preserved, on average, for 200 years. Long-term storage of native seeds can serve as insurance that a species’ genome is protected against extinction in a rapidly changing world. For instance, we can predict where climate shifts may occur due to the effects of global warming, collect seeds in these critical areas and bank them for future reintroduction into suitable habitats at a later date. The alarming reduction of native plant populations across the tallgrass prairie region signifies now more than ever the importance of seed banking.

Ultimately seeds of multiple populations will be collected for over 3000 plant species of the tallgrass prairie.
Initially 543 species important for habitat restoration will be collected across twelve ecoregions.
A stipend of $90 will be provided for each collection.
In addition to long-term storage, the collections will be used as a resource for research and restoration projects.

Preserving native plant diversity of the tallgrass prairie region in a seed bank means collecting multiple populations of more than 3000 species across the Midwest. This enormous task cannot be accomplished with out lots of help from organizations like yours. Where and how do we start? We began by creating a list of species that are considered “characteristic” of common plant communities in the region and integral to habitat restoration. To determine the list, we searched the literature for native species that met set criteria reflecting their importance in a community for each of twelve ecoregions (Omernik level 3) strongly represented in the tallgrass prairie region. From that data, 543 species were selected for our “Restoration Collection Target Species List”, of which 156 are considered high priority. The goal is to collect seeds from one plant population (if it exists) in each of the twelve ecoregions for all 543 species.

We need your help to collect the species from our target list within your ecoregion. You can view our Restoration Collection Target List with ecoregions at Omernik’s level 3 ecoregion map is included on our website to aid in locating your ecoregion. You can also find our seed collecting protocols ( We provide a stipend of $90 dollars for each collection and shipping to CBG with our FedEx account. If there is a species in your ecoregion that you feel is important for preservation that does not occur on our list, please contact us so we can add it. The more seeds secured in the bank, the more valuable the collection will be. The collection will be divided with one part remaining in the seed vault for long-term storage, another part held in at least one redundant storage facility off site and still another held in the seed vault as a resource for research and restoration projects.

If you can help, please feel free to contact us so that we can get you started. Also, if you have colleagues in your ecoregion or the others listed that may be interested in participating, please pass along this invitation.

Sincerely yours,

David Sollenberger

Seed Conservation Specialist


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