Status of European seed conservation of wild plants in seed banks



Conserving orthodox seeds of wild plants through seed banking (at 15% RH and –20°C) has become a valuable tool in safeguarding threatened populations and species, supporting conservation interventions such as plant translocations, but also in conserving genetic resources for plant breeding and food security. Despite over 90% of the European flora is likely to possess bankable seeds, there is no general assessment of how many taxa are secured in seed banks, where the gaps are and whether the countries met the objectives of global conservation initiatives such as the GSPC (i.e., target 8: 75% of threatened plants conserved ex situ). Within the framework of the COST Action ConservePlants (CA18201), the working group 2 launched a European-wide survey on seed bank collections to gain an overview over the current state of ex situ conservation of wild plant taxa in seed banks across Europe. After a challenging process of taxonomic harmonization, we identified over 13,000 taxa conserved in 109 institutions from 29 countries across Europe and the Middle East. We mapped the taxonomic names and the original provenance of seed lots against the respective national red lists to identify the coverage met by each country concerning the GSPC target 8. We reveal gaps in species conservation and point out future directions on how to meet global conservation targets. Our study demonstrates the importance of collaborative approach for seed banking to support safeguarding threatened plants across Europe but also highlights that its potential has not at all been fully exploited yet.

Using this extensive seed collection dataset gathered during the COST Action, we studied levels of phylogenetical diversity stored in seed banks. Our study revealed that current collections encompass a phylogenetically diverse subset of the European flora. Nevertheless, specific major branches of the plant Tree of Life within Europe remain unprotected. To address this gap, we introduced a novel quasi-deterministic method that assigns a priority rank to unsecured species based on their relevance in preserving the Tree of Life.

This activity is being performed by WG2, led by Sandrine Godefroid and Andreas Ensslin.

While this work is still in progress, you can get a glimpse into its contents here: