A recent report assessed 41 endangered or significant plants that occur in Australia’s six Commonwealth National Parks, to identify ways to help these plants recover.

The challenge

Threats to native plants

Around 84% of Australia’s native plants don’t occur anywhere else on Earth.

There are fewer than a thousand Graveside gorge wattles in Kakadu National Park.  ©Parks Australia

Often, National Parks are a haven for many species, protecting them against some of the threats that can hinder their survival.

Threats to our native plants include ongoing habitat destruction, fire, invasive species, more frequent extreme weather events, and declining populations of the animals involved in their pollination and seed dispersal.

Our response

Understanding the current status of endangered plants

A team of scientists assessed 41 endangered or significant plants that occur in Australia’s six Commonwealth National Parks, to identify ways to help these plants recover.

They found that many of these species don’t occur outside national parks, highlighting that the parks play a huge role in their conservation. Few of these species have been secured in living plant collections or seed banks, and very few are regularly monitored in the wild.

There is also very little information about their life cycle, breeding success or about what conditions most threaten their survival. This makes it difficult to know how to adequately protect them.

During their research, the team assessed a plant called the Graveside Gorge wattle (Acacia equisetifolia) found in Kakadu National Park, which is listed as critically endangered.

As a safeguard against extinction, Parks Australia has collected seed from the Graveside Gorge wattle, which is now stored in the National Seed Bank at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.

The results

Protecting endangered plants

Seed banking can extend the longevity of seeds to hundreds of years, protecting a species from extinction and helping with its recovery should the worst happen.

Jenny Hunter, Kakadu ranger, collecting Hibiscus brennanii seed for the seed bank.  ©Parks Australia

Germination trials at the National Seed Bank help unlock the often complex germination requirements of different species so that they can be regrown from seed.

As a result of trials with Graveside gorge wattle, the Gardens now has a living collection of this species. In Kakadu, Parks Australia is protecting the two wild populations by planning protective burning to create longer intervals between fires and reduce the likelihood of severe fires.

Seed banking and living collections are two of the strategies recommended to safeguard populations of threatened plant species. Some species may also benefit from establishing new populations outside national parks, similar to the management strategies used for vertebrate animals.

Another recommendation from the research was to conduct surveys of all endangered plant species in national parks that are not currently part of a formal monitoring program or that have not been surveyed within the past two years.

The report Constraints to Threatened Plant Recovery in Commonwealth National Parks was funded by the Australian Government through the Threatened Species Commissioner, Gregory Andrews. It was authored by researchers at the Centre for Australian National Biodiversity Research, a joint initiative between CSIRO and Parks Australia’s Biodiversity Science Section.

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