seeds 'doomsday' vault
March 2, 2015

First tree species seeds arrive at Norwegian ‘doomsday vault’

Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com - @BednarChuck

The so-called “doomsday vault” located on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has received its first delivery of forest tree species seeds – a Norway spruce and a Scots pine.

The depository, which first opened in 2008, is attempting to preserve all global food crop seeds in the event of catastrophic natural or man-made disasters, according to the Beacon Review. The scientists there are hoping to monitor long-term genetic changes in natural forests.

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“The possibility to have seed samples stored in the vault is a great opportunity to complement our forest tree gene conservation, which is based on in situ gene reserve forests,” Dr. Mari Rusanen, a researcher for Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), one of the organizations involved in the seed collection, told BBC News on Sunday.

“The beauty of in situ conservation is in its dynamic nature – we aim to converse natural genetic diversity per se, rather than specific genes or genotypes,” she added. “However, in the seed vault we will have long-term, ex situ, conservation/preservation of the existing genetic composition of the selected gene reserve forests.”

Dr. Rusanen went on to explain that the vault offered peace-of-mind in the unlikely event of a devastating event, such as all-out nuclear war or an apocalyptic weather event. On a more personal level, though, she said that she felt it was more important to collect the samples in order to monitor how these ecosystems change over the long-term.

They've been pining for a spruce

The Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) is a species of pine that is native to Europe and Asia and can be identified by its combination of fairly short, blue-green leaves and orange-red bark. The Norway spruce (Picea abies) is a species of spruce native to Central and Eastern Europe that can grow to up to 180 feet tall and is used as the primary Christmas tree in many parts of the world.

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The two tree species seeds, which were Finland and Norway, are the first consignment of seeds from a consortium of scientific groups from throughout the Nordic nations, BBC News noted. They were selected because of the key economic, ecological and social role that they play, and the global seed vault is expected to add several other types of trees in the near future.

Brian Lainoff of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), the group that operates the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, told BBC News that there were several reasons why they decided to collect forest tree seeds in the frozen outpost, located on the archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The genetic diversity of forest tree species worldwide is influenced by a number of factors, of which climate change and forest management activities are most important for the major forest tree species,” he said. “Fragmentation of populations, browsing, pests and diseases are other factors of varying importance.”

Future entries

Lainoff added that while the Nordic consortium's seeds were the first to enter the vault, future entries will be contributed from other countries. Among other new arrivals at the Svalbard vault were soy bean, barley, lentil, sorghum and wheat samples contributed by officials at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), as well as nearly 2,500 rice samples from AfricaRice.

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“Africa is bearing the brunt of all of the global challenges that threaten food security, such as political instability, climate change and population increase,” said Dr. Marie-Noelle Ndjiondjop, head of AfricaRice's Genetic Resources Unit. “We must not lose the ability to develop the crops that will help us meet and overcome these challenges.”

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