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Millennium Seedbank Project (MSBP) Phase II

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) is an international initiative co-coordinate by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the United Kingdom. It is funded from various sources.

The project started in 1995, concentrating on the UK flora and in 2000 the international component was initiated. Partners in 17 countries worldwide contributed to the MSBP, Namibia being one of 9 African nations. The project officially stopped on 31 March 2010 although some work continued after that date. A second phase of the project followed and now more than 80 partners worldwide are working towards a common goal. The second phase started for Namibia in 2012 and because the funding mechanism changed, work continues as funding is available.

Project Aims

The global objectives of the MSBP are to collect seeds, associated herbarium specimens and information of 25% (about 75 000 species) of the world's plants by 2020, targeting species and regions that are most at risk from impacts due to human activities and climate change. These seeds and the knowledge acquired will be available for research into solving major environmental challenges such as food security, deforestation, climate change and  habitat degradation.

In Namibia the project aims to contribute to the 25% seed collection target. Endemic, threatened, rare and economically important species are still the primary target, but since these were mainly covered in the first phase of the project, other species are included as well in phase 2.

MSBP Partnership Projects

Partnership projects vary from country to country, depending on national need and relevance. At the core of all partnerships, however, is the collection and conservation of seeds. In Namibia, the partner organisation is the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF). This institute houses the national seed bank and herbarium, where half of all material collected under this project is stored. The partnership is based on an Access and Benefit Sharing Agreement between MAWF and the RBG, Kew. A project co-ordinator, funded by the MSBP, is responsible for seed collection and co-ordination of project activities, while other Namibian institutions and individuals contribute on a part-time and voluntary basis.

Recent Projects and Achievements

Seed collecting

The collection of seed of indigenous Namibian species continues as funding becomes available. Since the start of collaboration in 2001, a total of 2218 herbarium specimens and 1212 seed samples were collected under this partnership, of which 1032 seed samples were duplicated at the Millennium Seed Bank.

Several new species were discovered during fieldwork (See publications). New records for Namibia and species that had not been found for many years, were collected by the project.

Re-introduction of Gazania thermalis at Gross Barmen

With funding received through the MSBP from the Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust, a project to re-introduce the daisy, Gazania thermalis, at its type-locality, Gross Barmen was started. This plant was discovered at Gross Barmen almost 100 years ago but does no longer occur there. It is known from only two other places and seed was collected from one of them and trails started to seed them at Gross barmen. The germination of seed and keeping seedlings in pots at the National Botanic garden were investigated and do not pose any difficulties. Transplanting seedlings to Gross barmen will be tested. Results from seeding experiments showed that it is very important to find exactly the right micro-habitat for plants to become established. This work is done in collaboration with Namibia Wildlife Resorts and the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.

Re-establishing Salsola nollothensis hummocks at Namdeb's Bogenfels mining site

Since 2006 the project has collaborated with Namdeb on post-mining rehabilitation of the beach hummocks formed by Salsola nollothensis at their mining site at the famous Bogenfels. Seed was collected and different low-tech storage methods tested. With the help of students and MSBP (UK) staff, germination and propagation methods were investigated (see Burke et al. 2001). This lead to the conclusion that re-seeding of Salsola nollothensis was not feasible for rehabilitation and that this would have to be done by transplanting seedlings into the mined areas. First results are promising.

Contributions to habitat restoration at Namibian mines

Since 2008 the project has been involved in assisting several mines with their restoration strategy. This was mainly through seed collecting and/or training of mine staff to do this themselves. Langer Heinrich Uranium, Namdeb Diamond Corporation, Rössing Uranium and Areva-Trekkopje were assisted in this project.At Namdeb's Sendelingsdrift mine this involved the threatened species Juttadinteria albata and some other targeted plants. at the yet to be opened Valencia Uranium mine, a relocation experiment for Elephant's Foot (Adenia pechuelii) was completed (to be published in Dinteria 2014).

Why conserve seeds?

Plants are the primary producers on earth and all other living organisms, including humans, depend on plants. By saving seeds we can save plants and ensure proper functioning of nature's ecosystems.

Storing seeds in seed banks provides an insurance against the extinction of plants in the wild, which may have yet undiscovered properties. Seed conservation complements protection of plants and ecosystems in the wild. It has some advantages over habitat conservation. Many samples of a large number of species, and thus a wide genetic representation, can be conserved at economically viable cost in a relatively small space with low manpower inputs. In addition, seed banks provide material for research, provide skills and knowledge that support wider plant conservation aims, and contribute to education and public awareness about plant conservation.

How we do it

  • Determine target species. Information was gathered from herbaria in Namibia, South Africa, Germany and United Kingdom as well as from literature to determine target species and localities where these were found in the past. The data and a photo was compiled into a Collecting Guide for Namibia and helps in finding the plants in the field.
  • Collecting. Seed has to be collected once it is mature; immature seed will not be viable. Timing of seed collecting is therefore crucial; if a plant is found with immature seed, nothing can be done except return later; if one is too late, mature seed will have already shattered and cannot be collected. As much seed as possible from as many different plants at one site is collected. Removing seed may however never be detrimental to the survival of the plant. As a rule of thumb we therefore take only 20% or less of the available seed at any place at any time.
  • Data collection. At any site where seed is collected, other information is also noted, like for instance the associated vegetation, topography, habitat, number of plants and area occupied by the species collected.
  • Other collections. A herbarium specimen is collected for each seed collection. This will be housed in a herbarium and serve as a way of checking the identity of the seed collected because from seed alone, plants can hardly ever be identified. A small soil sample is also collected and later analysed to determine soil pH and texture. This can be useful once seed has to be grown into plants again. In most cases a photo is taken as well.
  • Processing and Storage. Collected seed is kept as dry and cool as possible until it is cleaned by hand. Hand cleaning is essential to obtain good quality, undamaged seed for storage. Clean seed is then dried to a moisture content of 3-7% and sealed in air tight containers (foil bags in Namibia, glass bottles in the UK) before being frozen at -20°C. Prepared and stored like this, seed should remain viable for a few hundred years.

How you can help

Seed collecting is a highly specialised process that requires some knowledge of both the plants and seeds concerned and a lot of patience! Interested persons can, however, after some basic training, assist the MSBP.

Especially people living in rural areas can help us in getting the timing for seed collection right by either collecting the seed themselves or by informing us when seed is mature. You may also know of plants that we are looking for but have not found thus far.

Please visit www.kew.org/msbp/

Project co-ordinator

Ms Herta Kolberg