The Margot Forde Forage Germplasm Centre is New Zealand's national gene-bank of grassland plants and also hosts the New Zealand Endangered Species Seed-bank. It is also Australia's gene-bank for perennial grasses and legumes.
Plant germplasm consists of seeds of genetically diverse plant populations that are conserved for use in plant breeding and to ensure the survival of groups of plants.
The roles of the Centre are to obtain germplasm, to conserve it, replenish it and distribute it for research and product development.
These collections provide the foundation for pasture, turf and soil conservation, plant breeding and research in New Zealand, as well as the conservation of national endangered species. They also have important international conservation roles.
The grassland collections are very important because New Zealand's export economy is based predominantly on pasture, and almost all pasture plants are native to other countries. Pasture species must be changed as problems arise, e.g. new pests, climate warming, etc. The Germplasm Centre thus provides the biological economy with insurance against future problems arising from environmental changes.
Plant introduction and germplasm collection are important parts of the work of the Centre. In recent years, collecting expeditions have been sent to areas of special relevance to New Zealand.
The Centre holds seeds from about 100 countries representing 1,800 species from 350 genera and over 70 plant families. Included are extensive wild collections of useful species, samples of foreign and domestic cultivars, breeders lines and genetic stocks.
The collection includes over 65,000 seed samples stored at 0°C and 30% relative humidity (RH) to prolong viability. Under these conditions, grass seeds will live for 20-30 years and legumes 20-50 years. Seed stocks are replenished using specialised facilities.
For longer-term storage, lower temperatures (-20°C) are used and this requires very dry seed. The Centre has a drying room which allows seeds to be dried to low moisture contents before storage.
A database is maintained of all seed holdings and samples issued.
The public part of this database is available on the Internet. Seeds from this part of the collection are freely available to bona fide researchers world-wide. Associated research includes DNA analysis to maximise the conservation of genetic diversity and to identify useful wild species that can be crossed with economic species.
Endangered Species Seed-bank
The Centre hosts the MWH New Zealand Endangered Species Seed-bank on behalf of the NZ Plant Conservation Network. This is a collection of seeds of populations of native species that are endangered in the wild. By storing seeds, these populations can be conserved for long periods and the seeds provide insurance against future loss in their native habitats.