From Plant Press, Vol. 19, No. 2, April 2016.
By Sara Oldfield
One of the important ways that botanists have responded to the global loss of biodiversity is by documenting the plight of rare and threatened species. The Smithsonian Institution has played a lead role in this task for 40 years or more since the early days of working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on red listing plants. Collection data and herbarium specimens continue to be of primary value in assessing the conservation status of plant taxa - a task that is far from complete at a global level. Conservation assessments help to stimulate action for priority threatened species, but with the unfolding impact of climate change, can we afford to ignore the more common elements of plant diversity?
In August 2015 the National Seed Strategy for Restoration and Rehabilitation was launched in Boise, Idaho. The Smithsonian Institution was one of the 12 Federal agencies involved in developing this Strategy. Also involved were over 300 non-federal co-operators of the Plant Conservation Alliance including commercial seed producers and plant nurseries. The National Seed Strategy responds to the national shortage of native seed required for ecological restoration. At a global level, United Nation biodiversity targets call for restoration of 15 percent of degraded land by 2020. In the US, as elsewhere, native seed is required to restore land impacted by fire, the spread of invasive species, overuse, mining, coastal flooding and soil erosion. These threatening factors increase the risk of extinction faced by rare species, but increasingly they impact common species too.
Restoring native plant communities using native plant species of appropriate provenance is a requirement of Federal policies relating to climate change, the need to restore healthy populations of pollinators, and the need to restore fire-damaged sagebrush communities in the western United States. The National Seed Strategy recognizes the challenges of obtaining and delivering adequate quantities of appropriate seed to meet restoration needs which are often difficult to predict. The right seed, often of common "workhorse species," needs to be available for use at the right time and in the right place. Understanding which plant species are appropriate for specific localities relies on an understanding of plant distributions which in turn depend on collection data and herbarium records.