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"Think Tank" sees international environmental experts join forces in WA

Scientists and environmental managers discuss issues of land restoration at the BHPBIO Mt Whaleback mine (Photo: BGPA)

One of the keys to unlocking plant establishment in restoration is to understand processes driving seedling recruitment and survival following natural disturbances. Here, seedlings of spinifex (Triodia spp.) emerge en masse following a fire in the Pilbara (Photo: BGPA)

Australia’s arid landscapes are unique and diverse. More than 2000 plant species occur in the Pilbara alone. Much remains to be learned about the biology and ecology of these species (Photo: BGPA)

The restoration of biodiversity is a global challenge that depends upon the use of seeds. Seeds are the only way to re-introduce native vegetation to degraded landscapes at the scale of 10’s to 1000’s of hectares. But low success rates are achieved with current approaches, and tonnes of seeds are needed.

During the week of 12 – 16 January 2015 the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (BGPA) and BHP Billiton Iron Ore (BHPBIO) led an interactive “think tank” on seed technologies for restoration. The think tank was part of the Restoration Seedbank Initiative, a five-year $5M Partnership between BGPA, BHPBIO, and the University of Western Australia.

The think tank saw six local and international experts gather in Western Australia with BGPA scientists to tackle the problem of landscape-scale ecological restoration. The team comprised plant scientists, ecologists, engineers and environmental managers from Australia, South Africa and the United States and took a two-day field visit to BHP Billiton Iron Ore rehabilitation sites in the Pilbara.

University of California Sierra Foothill and Extension Centre Director Jeremy James flew in for the think tank and said when addressing the complex global problem of restoration, institutions could choose to operate individually or work collaboratively.

“The thing that is exceedingly amazing with [the think tank] is that it does bring together multiple researchers in different lines of work across the globe to try to collaboratively tackle this pressing challenge,” Dr James said.

With up to 4000km2 of land currently cleared for mining in the Pilbara, restoration in this biodiverse arid region of Australia is a pressing issue.

The think tank focussed on a number of themes including seed dormancy, seedling establishment under field conditions, seed enablement, and mechanisation of seed treatments.

What is clear is that similar challenges to effective restoration are faced in drylands across the world. These complex biological problems cannot be solved by individual institutions, but require multi-disciplinary teams to collaborate and a long-term commitment and vision.

Seeds are at the heart of programs to conserve biodiversity and to restore plant communities. The aim is to use the fundamental approaches and principles being established with the think tank and the Restoration Seedbank Initiative as a model to tackle similar conversation challenges that the ASBP Partners and the global community face.

Article prepared by Dr David Merritt, BGPA