Wednesday 17th February. Helping scientists to collect seeds and protect native plants

Today Maryanne (a teacher from Sydney Grammar) and I went bush with James and Natalie (botanists) from the Royal Tasmanian Botanic Gardens in Hobart to collect native plant seeds from Mt Mangana. The scientists chose 2 plants to collect seeds from, an acacia tree (wattle) and a snowberry bush.

We set off at 8:30 am driving 40 minutes to reach the survey site on the mountain. Just like the other days we had to remember safety, safety, safety and take the first aid kit with a satellite phone and made sure we had enough water to drink, food and wet weather clothing. During the drive I got to ask the scientists lots of questions about why they collect seeds and the steps involved.  I learnt that seeds are collected for conservation. A seed bank is like a ‘Noah’s Ark’ for plants. The collecting strengthens the biodiversity (variety) of the plants found in the wild. If the plant populations start to die off the species (types of) can become vulnerable to events like fire and temperature or rainfall changes. As a result the plant could become endangered, threatened, or worse, extinct!

day3 blog acacia seed a day3 blog me lookg bag a

The seeds collected today will be stored to eventually be germinated to grow new plants when it is necessary. This could be in 100 years or up to 1 000 years’ time depending on the seed.  Imagine in the future, your grandchildren and great, great, great grandchildren being able to grow plants from the seeds collected today!

James and Natalie told us that once the seeds are taken back to the laboratory they will: • dry the seeds slowly in a temperature controlled room at 15° C with the humidity at 50 %. Out in the bush the seeds dry out in natural conditions, • the seeds must be dried because if they are put in the freezer without drying first, the seeds will explode, this is because the moisture (water) in the seed expands, • eventually the dried seeds are stored in a fridge at 2° C.

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James and Natalie told me that not all seeds germinate (sprout and grow) under the same conditions and some seeds need heat to germinate. In nature this would happen after a bush fires. The fire removes all the other competing plants and gives specific plant seeds the best conditions to sprout and grow! In Tasmania there are a lot of plants that don’t like bush fire and populations can be lost due to fires.  

A good news, seed bank, story is there were some plants thought to be extinct for 100 years on the east coast of Tasmania but were eventually found again. In the wild there are now less than 20 of these plants but the Hobart Botanical Gardens seed bank holds 60 000 seeds of this plant so it will never be lost again.

We arrived at Mt Mangana about 9:30 am (45 minutes drive from base). James used a hand held GPS (global positioning system) device to locate the collection site (the area where the scientists had previously mapped out and put up bright coloured plastic tape). The GPS will also give the scientists the longitude and latitude which they will need to include in their notes along with the collected seeds.

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When we left the ute, we split into 2 groups to do the seed collecting. We took with us a grabbing and cutting tool on a long stick and the cotton sample bags to put the seed in.

We walked up and down along the mountain road searching for acacia trees with mature seed pods (the outside is brown but not split). The trees leaves are small, thin, narrow and prickly! This would make collecting the seed pod tricky! After a while I got good at seeing the seed pods and picking them off without getting pricked.

The scientists are always careful not to damage the plant when collecting seeds. This is why they would gently pull the branch down or cut off a small part of a branch. They were careful to ‘tread carefully’.  To learn more plants from Tasmania and the Tasmanian Botanical Gardens scientists, James and Natalie, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/rtbg/

While collecting seeds I found a wasp which I captured in a small tube to bring back to the camp for Lyn, a scientist who specialises in beetles, ants, flies and other insects. James told me the wasp is likely to be a parasitic wasp that preys on other insects. I also saw a couple of snails which live on the branches and leaves of rainforest plants. Inside the dense bush was a moth trap set by Abbey a specialist in dragonflies, damselflies, butterflies and some moths. She will return to the trap later in the week to collect any trapped moths or other insects.

I had a wonderful day out on Mt Mangana collecting acacia seeds. We arrived back at the camp after 3:00 pm. The rest of the time before dinner I spent writing this blog and choosing photo.  I hope to get up to the lab this evening to see what the scientists are doing there and take some photos. I’ll keep in touch and post a blog tomorrow. I don’t know now which scientist I will be working with and where I will be collecting but I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Miss Hoey

P1050318  day 3 moth trapa