Washington, Oct 16 : A group of U.S. scientists have proposed setting up a different kind of seed bank, which would gather wild species at intervals in the future, effectively capturing evolution in action.
They argue for the collection of many species in a way that evolutionary responses to future changes in climate can be detected. They call it the "Resurrection Initiative."
"In contrast to existing seed banks, which exist primarily for conservation, this collection would be for research that would allow a greater understanding of evolution," said Steven J. Franks of Fordham University.
According to Susan J. Mazer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, "Typically, seed banks are focused on the preservation of agricultural species or other plant species of strong economic interest, say, forest species, forest trees."
"But that implies a relatively static view of a seed bank, a snapshot forever of what a species provides," said Mazer.
Evolutionary biologists recognize that the gene pool of any species is a dynamic resource that changes over time as a result of random events such as highly destructive climatic events like hurricanes, but also through sustained and ongoing processes like evolution by natural selection.
While most scientists agree that the climate is changing, the extent to which species will be able to evolve to keep up with these changes is unknown.
According to the research, the only way that scientists can detect the results of those sorts of calamitous changes - and test evolutionary predictions about what sorts of changes might occur over time - is to sample seed banks in a repeated fashion.
Then, they must compare the attributes of the gene pools that are sampled at different times to a baseline.
"One way that we can obtain this baseline is by collecting seeds at a given point in time and archiving them under ideal environmental conditions, so that they all stay alive, and so that 10, 20, and 30 years down the road, we can compare them to seeds that we collect in the future to see how the gene pool has changed," explained Mazer.
This approach will allow a number of things that a one-time, seed-sampling event doesn't.
Scientists can evaluate the result of the effects of climate change, land use change, and other kinds of environmental changes such as the spread of disease on the gene pool.
"The approach that we would use is not simply to collect seeds over various time intervals and to archive them, but in the future to raise them in a common environment comparing seeds that were collected in 2010, 2030, and 2050, for example," said Mazer.