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Extinction is forever: Seed banks build biodiversity

With a changing climate causing extreme weather conditions – such as California’s unruly wildfires and Arizona’s unrelenting drought – certain species that have been on the extinction list are being given a second chance through seed banks.

More than 1,000 seed banks are positioned across the globe, 20 of them in the United States, working to preserve frail ecosystems that are becoming less diverse as the planet warms. While certain banks only specialize in their native species, some banks store seeds from all over the world.

The bank at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, which is preserving the genes of more than 6,000 species of seeds, also hosts other living organisms and takes part in broader conservation efforts, such as vegetation mapping and monitoring rare plants. The work matters to the director of conservation programs at California Botanic Garden, Naomi Fraga, a botanist who specializes in plant conservation and floristics.

“Thinking about the extinction crisis and global change, there is the potential that we can lose many plant populations in the near future,” Fraga said. “And in fact we know we have populations in here that are actually extinct in the wild. Not whole species, but populations that no longer exist. And so those materials represent something that’s absolutely irreplaceable.”

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