THE conservation and ecological restoration of Acacia species in the Mid West of Western Australia has had a breakthrough with new DNA barcoding research.
The study, published in the Molecular Ecology Resources journal, demonstrates the practical potential for using DNA barcoding in conservation and restoration projects.
Co-author Paul Nevill, research scientist at the WA Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority and Adjunct Lecturer at UWA’s School of Plant Biology, along with a team of researchers, investigated the DNA sequence variation of Acacia species at the Mt Karara mine site.
DNA barcoding was successfully used to identify a large unidentified seed collection needed for mine site restoration as the species Acacia karina.
Acacia karina is one of 23 plant species that have conservation priority in the Mt Karara area. The identified seed could then be used in restoration work.
“Ecological restoration of ecosystems and threatened plant species, including Acacias, in the Mid West is heavily dependent on availability of quality seeds,” the authors write.
“DNA barcoding enables confidence in species identification of seed from seed stores for ecological restoration, which is a critical platform for the practical delivery of restoration seed banks for restoration practice at scale.”
Swift and accurate identification of species is critical when assessing the potential impacts of mining on biodiversity in the region, the authors say.
“The rapid and accurate species identification offered by DNA barcoding, particularly of morphologically similar taxa and seed, can serve an immediate practical purpose by addressing the current conflict between mining and conservation [around Mt Karara].”
Dr Nevill says DNA barcoding can be applied to all the key stages of restoration projects, such as in biodiversity assessments prior to mining activity occurring and in the sourcing of seeds for restoration.
The preservation of Acacia species is critical because they are foundation species and the dominant shrub/tree component of many floristic communities.
They also promote soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
There is an extraordinarily high diversity of Acacia species in the Mid West with many species endemic to the region or very narrowly distributed.
“Mineral exploration and extraction have the potential to significantly impact many narrow endemic species in the region,” Dr Nevill says.
“Many Acacia species will be particularly impacted by mining and will form an important component of post mining ecological restoration.”
The Acacia, commonly known as the wattle, is Australia’s largest genus of flowering plant and provides a food source and habitat for many species.