Storing seeds in conservation seed banks is a means to enhance the survival prospects of native plant species in the wild. Seed banks are most effective when employed as a part of a larger, integrated conservation community and society in which a wide range of approaches are employed. The irreplaceable foundation of comprehensive conservation is to manage, maintain and restore wild habitats where they occur, or in situ. Seed banking is a type of ex situ, or off site plant conservation, with its own roles, values and limits.
The basic components of a complete ex situ plant conservation effort are: 1) to collect genetically representative samples, 2) to store or otherwise keep the samples alive and in good condition for extended periods of time, while at the same time learning to germinate and grow them, and when necessary 3) to use the samples for reintroduction as founders to establish new or augment existing populations, or for other scientific investigations with the purpose of enhancing species survival in the wild.
New to Portland State University in 2011, our work extends back to 1983 when the Berry Botanic Garden established the first seed bank in the USA--and possibly the world--dedicated exclusively to rare and endangered plants. In 1985, it was a founding participating institution of the Center for Plant Conservation, which now consists of 40 independent botanical organizations across the USA.
It is becoming increasingly clear that our use of fossil fuels is causing global warming, which in turn is causing climates to change in ways we cannot predict with any certainty. Thus, we have begun also to collect seeds of plant species that are currently more common. These seeds can be used in the near term for ecological restoration, and in the long term serve as a hedge against uncertainty in how particular species and ecosystems will respond to global climate change.
Please volunteer, and help make a better future!