The Azorella seed orchard

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This week at Macquarie Island: 15 November 2013
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG) botanist, Natalie Tapson, has been working since arriving at the end of October to increase the existing Azorella seed orchard from 9 to 54 plants. Azorella macquariensis is a cushion plant that only grows on Macquarie Island and is the major structural component of the feldmark vegetation that occurs on the windswept plateau at altitudes between 200 and 400 metres.

The species has undergone a catastrophic decline right across the island since late 2008 and as yet no definitive cause has been found for the dieback. As a result of the decline, the species is now listed at the highest level of threat under both the federal and Tasmanian threatened species acts.

A trial seed orchard established by the RTBG on Wireless Hill in 2010 was successful so it was decided to seek funding to increase the orchard to at least 50 plants to capture the genetic variability within the species. The seed will be collected for long-term storage in the RTBG seed bank and research will be undertaken to work out the germination requirements. Funding from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife have allowed the project to go ahead.

Wireless Hill is on North Head, up a steep track, in close proximity to the station. Most of the equipment for the orchard was thankfully dropped by helicopter at the site during resupply in March 2013 but some of the ingredients for the mix had to carried from the station up the hill. After a plea for help by Natalie, there was quickly a band of willing volunteers to carry backpacks full of peat and pebbles up the hill.

Much of the peat had already been autoclaved by Angela from the pest eradication (MIPEP) team in the week before L’Astrolabe arrived. With pebbles in the base for drainage and a mix of peat, perlite and gravel, most of the tubes have been filled and so far three plants have been collected from the south of the island by Peter from the MIPEP team. These have been planted as the first new additions to the seed orchard. A new tank is being installed by Josh and over the next few weeks Natalie will work with Ranger in Charge, Chris Howard, to collect more plants from across the island to add a total of 45 new plants to the seed orchard.

Natalie Tapson

Pebbles in four 20 litre buckets, ready to be carried up the track, in the background, to Wireless Hill. There are several gentoo penguins amongst the tussock at the base of the hill
Pebbles ready to be carried up the track to Wireless Hill
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
Some of the keen volunteers  Peter, Jimmy, Lachlan, Dom and Wim
Some of the keen volunteers Peter, Jimmy, Lachlan, Dom and Wim
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
At the site on Wireless Hill - Natalie with a spade and a big blue plastic tub, making the mix. There are four banks, each containing 9 plastic tubes (20cm diameter) behind her
Natalie making the mix
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
Shows one of the banks of nine tubes newly filled with the mix
Tubes newly filled with mix
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
In one of the tubes - The first planted Azorella, collected by Peter
The first planted Azorella, collected by Peter
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
Azorella seed orchard , consisting of four banks of nine tubes on the grassy flat area of Wireless Hill. The ocean and east coast of the island, including the Nuggets can be seen in the background
Azorella seed orchard on Wireless Hill
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
Chris and Clive removing old, rusted steel pickets at Island Lake. They are standing on the sandy shore of the lake with the snow covered hills in the background behind the lake
Chris and Clive removing old steel pickets at Island Lake
(Photo: Natalie Tapson)
At the Wireless Hill Orchard site - Clive, using a piece of timber to hammer down and secure the final tubes into place within the steel frames. The east coast and ocean provide a scenic backdrop
Clive securing the final tubes into place within the steel frames
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
At the site on Wireless Hill - A close up of an array of nine tubes, each containing a Azorella plant. The ocean, partly cloudy sky and the east coast escarpment provide a scenic backdrop
The Azorella orchard takes shape
(Photo: Barend (Barry) Becker)
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