A new mandate to conserve the genetic diversity of their forests spurred the Natural Resources Institute of Finland to launch a new seed banking venture. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened on February 26, 2015, located on Spitsbergen Island, it is heavily guarded by permafrost. Prior to opening the seed bank the primary method for conserving genetic diversity was to protect the spruce and pine gene reserves in living forests. And while preservation of the living natural resources will continue the Svalbard Global Seed Vault provides additional levels of protection by allowing samples of the trees’ genetic make-up to be taken and stored for the extreme long-term.
The first samples to be stored in the vault will be seeds from the most environmentally and economically important trees to Finland; spruce and pine. The primary objective for seed banking is to secure the long-term conservation of forest trees to provide backup storage in case of unlikely threats, assist with long-term monitoring of genetic variation in natural forests and allow for monitoring of the changes in genetic diversity occurring as a side-product of tree breeding.
Forest management methods, climate change, pests, disease and forest fragmentation can all influence the genetic variation in forests. Safeguarding the existing variation is critical to the conservation of biodiversity. The ability to monitor fluctuations in genetic variation over long periods of time supports the primary goal of overall natural resource protection.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a project that was collaboratively developed and constructed through cooperation of all the Nordic nations; Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway, funded and owned by Norway. At this point only seeds collected from forests in Norway and Finland will be delivered to the vault. But eventually the seed vault will house duplicates of seeds from collections around the world. This will help to ensure the preservation of the world’s food crops as well as natural resources for future generations.