CONSTRUCTION has begun on the largest seedbank in the southern hemisphere.
PlantBank, located at the Australian Botanic Garden, can hold up to 200 million living seeds in what has been referred to as an insurance policy against the extinction of plant species.
''There are all of these threats happening all the time - climate change, new diseases … land clearing … and that's why you want to have this back-up measure,'' the director of science at the Australian Botanic Garden, Brett Summerell, said.
''We want to have collections that represent the whole genetic spectrum, so if something does happen, you can … reintroduce the whole genetic range of the species.''
The United Nations Environment Program identifies Australia as one of 12 mega diverse countries, with more than 85 per cent of Australia's plants unique to the Australian landscape.
The $19.8 million facility will have seeds or live tissue from all 25,000 plant species in Australia.
''This bank really matters because if a species becomes extinct, no amount of money and no government on Earth can bail it out," the Minister for the Environment, Robyn Parker, said at the commencement ceremony yesterday.
''When we lose species, we lose threads in the web of life and untold potential for human health and well being.''
Seeds from species such as wattles and gums will be kept at a temperature of either 4 degrees or minus 20 degrees. A second space kept at a temperature of minus 196 degrees will be used for rainforest species that are harder to store.
The co-ordinators of PlantBank have been searching for financial support for more than 10 years. The NSW government has pledged $15.5 million in funding for the facility, a move Dr Summerell suggests could be in response to the growing concern regarding climate change among the general public.
''I think there's an acceptance that the environmental risks we're facing are much more significant, so I assume that's part of the reason why,'' he said.
PlantBank will accept seed donations from Papua New Guinea and other parts of south-east Asia and the Pacific, with the intention of preserving species that may be impacted by climate change.
''With sea levels rising, they're the areas where the impacts of those changes are biggest,'' Dr Summerell said.
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