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Kangaroo Island’s native seed garden safeguards against extinction

Endangered flora on KI is being given a lifeline thanks to the newly established Threatened Flora Seed Production Garden within the island’s Cygnet Park Sanctuary.

Aug 26, 2022, updated Nov 14, 2022
An artist rendition of what the Threatened Flora Seed Production Garden at the Cygnet Park Sanctuary on Kangaroo Island will look like when completed. Image supplied.

An artist rendition of what the Threatened Flora Seed Production Garden at the Cygnet Park Sanctuary on Kangaroo Island will look like when completed. Image supplied.

Launched through a partnership between the SA Seed Conservation Centre, the Nature Conservation Society of SA and Bio R in a bid to safeguard native plants from extinction, the garden will grow multiple populations of Kangaroo Island’s at-risk species and collect their seed for banking and biodiversity recovery projects.

The Threatened Flora Seed Production Garden was established in response to the bushfires that burned 211,474 hectares of land on Kangaroo Island over the summer of 2019/20.

The garden is located in a 5000-square-metre animal-proof enclosure within the Cygnet Park Sanctuary, 5km southwest of Kingscote, that was donated by environmental philanthropists David and Penny Paton of Bio R.

Flora ecologist Bradley Bianco said the SA Seed Conservation Centre wanted to create a long-term project to address the limitations of restoring threatened plant populations to the island, much of which has to do with seed availability.

“The garden is essentially about producing seeds to provide a resource for resurrection projects,” Bianco said.

“We have tried to capture multiple providences where the plants are found to cover up on genetic diversity and then we use that genetically diverse collection in the garden to collect the seed that will be the foundation of restoration projects for those species.”

Volunteers help plant and maintain the seed garden. Photo supplied.

The garden has been specifically developed to capture the diversity of the island’s flora and accommodate these species by mirroring the natural environment in which they’re found.

This means bringing in a diversity of soil types from local quarries, developing soaks to simulate swamps and creek beds, and creating sandbanks for coastal species.

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So far, one-third of the garden has been planted with around 60 different species of endemic flora, with the remaining two-thirds available for future development.

“There is a large site we can use for research where we can do things like direct seeding trials or establishing a large cover of a particular species that we are interested in to understand aspects of these plants’ ecology,” Bianco said.

In South Australia, one in four of our native plants are threatened with extinction at some level, being classified as either rare, vulnerable or endangered, according to Bianco.

“We have still got a large diversity of native plants in our state, but they are by no means highly safeguarded and that one in four statistic represents that if we don’t take genuine and earnest conservation actions now, in the next century or so we could stand to lose quite a bit of our natural heritage in the form of plant diversity,” he said.

Bianco said projects like the Threatened Flora Seed Production Garden will allow the introduction of new, genetically diverse populations of endemic species that, once planted in abundance, will create self-sustaining populations in the wild.

“These are things we can do; it just takes the motivation and the personpower to get a project like this off the ground,” he said.

Nature Conservation Society of SA CEO, Kirsty Bevan, said the next step of the garden’s success will be community-driven through ongoing contributions of an inaugural Friends of KI Threatened Flora group.

“A dedicated team of community members and landholders, in the form of a Friends Group, are keen to be directly involved in managing the Seed Production Garden and furthering research to support the recovery of threatened flora across the island,” Bevan said.

Group members will be upskilled to undertake field searches for target species, collect seeds, monitor plants, and propagate and translocate species to the wild to boost Kangaroo Island’s biodiversity.

The garden will also serve as a place of education, where researchers, schools, the community and eco-tourists can learn about Kangaroo Island’s flora and fauna and the importance of conservation.

This story is proudly brought to you by PIRSA as the winner of the Regional Resilience Award which is part of the Regional Showcase 2022 program, run by Solstice Media.

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