Nature Conservation Unit has established a Seed Bank as a milestone of its ex situ conservation actions. It is the first Seed Bank, created in Cyprus 15 years ago, which focuses on endemic, rare and threatened plant taxa. Seed banking is considered one of the most efficient methods of ex situ conservation for orthodox seed species in order to safeguard biodiversity at the level of species and/or population genetic diversity, as this rapidly diminishes worldwide due to urban development, habitat destruction, overexploitation of species, unsustainable consumption and climate change.
Ex situ conservation is one of two main methods of conserving plant species. In situ conservation protects biodiversity onsite, while ex situ refers to the efforts of safeguarding wildlife species outside their natural habitats and environments. Ex situ conservation is highlighted in the ‘Strategy and Action Plan for Biodiversity in Cyprus’ (2019), where under Target 6 (Conservation of genetic resources) specific measures have been included. Moreover, the importance of ex situ conservation is highlighted in the ‘Genetic Resources Strategy for Europe’, published in 2021, and in the IUCN SSC ‘Guidelines for the Use of Ex situ Management for Species Conservation’. Furthermore, the project falls under the priority area ‘7.2 Rational Management of Natural Resources with emphasis on Water Resources and the Protection of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ of Cyprus’ Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3CY).
The NCU’s Seed Bank is considered a priceless resource for the preservation of as many plant taxa of Cyprus’s flora, as possible. The foundation of the Seed Bank was in 2006 with the storage of first seed collection and since then the Bank is hosting about 130 seed lots of 48 plant taxa (species, subspecies, varieties) meaning a total of about 526.000 seeds. Seedlots are stored and sealed in containers preserved in conditions of stable humidity and constant low temperature (-18oC) allowing the seeds to be kept for long period of time.
The seedlots stored belong to:
- Cyprus’ endemics
- plants of European importance (listed in Annex II of Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC)
- plants listed in the IUCN TOP50 Mediterranean islands plants
- plants of the Red Data Book of the Flora of Cyprus
- common plant species of Cyprus’ flora.