Svalbard Seed Bank

The Syrian Civil War has prompted the first withdrawal from the Svalbard Global Seed Bank, a stronghold of plant biodiversity that is described as the “final backup” for regionally important food crops.

“We did not expect a retrieval this early,” Crop Trust spokesman Brian Lainoff told NPR. “But [we] knew in 2008 that Syria was in for an interesting couple of years. This is why we urged them to deposit so early on.”

Reading this made me wonder if viable seed from any Alaska Native wild subsistence crops had found their way into the vault, but if climate change is the factor that might someday influence these crops to fail (as might have been the case in the geometrid moth outbreaks on the Kenai Peninsula), what good is a seed bank anyway? Replanting something in the same place where it failed to adapt fast enough is likely futile.

The answer might be in cataloguing traits. Cary Fowler, a creator of the Svalbard vault, believes much more needs to be done in not just possessing a seed, but understanding the desirable traits a plant might contain. Other crops might benefit from breeding that allows them to take on traits to better handle changing weather patterns and new disease and insect threats.

Since such genetic manipulation is not a tenant of wild stand management, I’d be interested in learning if managers have any idea as to how they might deal with threats related to a shifting climate.

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