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Seed Vaults Can’t Save a Third of Critically Endangered Plants

Published: November 2, 2018
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Mango trees are one of the many species that produce seeds that can't be dried. Image: PublicDomainPictures.net

 

More than a third of all the critically endangered plant species on Earth grow from a type of seed that can’t be dried, meaning we can’t preserve them in seed vaults as an insurance policy against extinction. Unless we can find other preservation techniques, once these plants—which include oak trees, mango trees, and horse chestnut trees—are gone, they’re gone, according to a new study published Friday in Nature Plants.

 

“Conventional seed banking is not suitable for all seed plants, with some species having recalcitrant seeds unable to survive the drying process and therefore incapable of being frozen,” the paper, written by scientists at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew, reads.

Recalcitrant seeds need to keep their water content in order to grow. Think of an avocado: if you keep a fresh avocado pit and root it in a container of water, it can still grow. But if you dry it out in your cupboard for a few weeks, it’s basically dead.

Though it doesn’t always get as much attention as the threats facing animals, plant diversity across the globe is also facing declines, with species being lost at an unprecedented rate. In an effort to combat the rapid loss of so many plants, conservationists set goals back in 2002 for things they could achieve to help preserve more plants. One of these goals was to preserve 75 percent of threatened plant species ex situ (as in, somewhere other than their native habitat) by 2020.

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