The seedbank vault
The seed vault is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. It holds seed collections of many of the 25,000 plant species that occur in Australia. Most of the seeds are from New South Wales species, and some are rare and threatened in the wild. By 2020 all New South Wales species will be represented either here or as living plants growing within the Australian Botanic Garden. The vault has the capacity to store this number of species many times over. It can also house large seed collections for use in the restoration of degraded habitats.
The success of conserving seeds for the long-term depends on the collection of good quality seed, correct preparation of the seed for storage and maintaining the collections in dry, cold conditions. The colder the storage temperature, the longer the seeds will last.
Dried to perfection
Seeds containing too much moisture will not survive the freezing process so they are prepared for storage by drying them at low humidity in the room next to the vault. The dried seeds are packed in strong aluminium bags to protect them from air and insects. Once packed and labelled, they are ready for storage at -20°C in the vault's freezer.
Seeds of many wattle (Acacia) species are expected to last hundreds of years in storage. Other species, such as waratahs (Telopea speciosissima), may have a much shorter lifespan in storage - perhaps only 40 years. These shorter-lived seeds will need to be re-collected frequently. Some plant species, including rainforest plants with fleshy fruits, have seeds that cannot be dried and frozen for storage.
Global seed conservation
Conserving plant species is a shared responsibility. Seedbanks around the world protect their collections by sending duplicate collections to other seedbanks. This spreads the risks associated with losing collections through disasters such as fire, theft or war. Duplicates of many of the Australian PlantBank seed collections are held at the Millennium Seed Bank in the United Kingdom.