Tibet’s seeds must be stored as climate changes

At the risk of offending the nabobs at Macmillan Publishing, I am going to post this letter to Nature in its entirety, because Nature requires one to pay to read it online, and the subject is too important for that.1

The Tibet–Qinghai plateau is an area where climate change may have huge effects as glaciers retreat, leading to large decreases in water supply in the mega-rivers of India, southeast Asia and China by the middle of the century. For the 6,000 or more species of higher plants, including the widely admired Himalayan alpines, the effects will be even more severe as vegetation zones move upwards by several hundred metres. The movement of regions suitable for growth will be followed, not accompanied, by the vegetation suited to them, increasing the risk of extinctions.

In Tibet, few of the practices adopted in many other countries are in place. Although there are 38 nature reserves, covering a third of the country, there are no botanical gardens. The preservation of seeds of Tibetan plants is virtually non-existent. The Millennium Seed Bank at Kew in the United Kingdom stores seed from only three Tibetan species, and China’s largest seed bank, the Southwest China Germplasm Bank of Wild Species in the Kunming Institute of Botany, has none.

We and researchers at other institutions are addressing this gap. We hope we’ll be in time.

W. John Cram, China–UK HUST–RRes Genetic Engineering and Genomics Joint Laboratory, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei 430074
Yang Zhong, School of Life Sciences and Center for Evolutionary Biology, Fudan University, Shanghai 200433, China
Tashi Tersing, Institute of Biodiversity Science and Geobiology, Tibet University, Lhasa 850000, China
Jie Cai, Millennium Seed Bank Project, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Wakehurst Place, Ardingly, West Sussex RH17 6TN, UK

  1. And thanks to Hannes Dempewolf for the tip. []

One Reply to “Tibet’s seeds must be stored as climate changes”

  1. I can appreciate a journal, or similar publication, charging for substantial articles but find it ludicrous that they would charge for a full version of a letter of to a letters page. Information of the nature in this letter is critical and sould be communicated to a wider audience, not just those lucky enough to have a subscription to Nature.

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