The Seed Conservation Laboratory (SCL) operates research, storage and support facilities for seed-oriented areas of native Hawaiian plant conservation.
The SCL has an ongoing screening program to determine the longevity characteristics of seeds of native Hawaiian plants, and to find the best species-specific storage conditions. In addition to the longevity and storage research, the SCL also does research on dormancy and germination characteristics of native Hawaiian plant seeds. The SCL's main collaborator in longevity studies is the USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Ft. Collins, CO. Most of the dormancy and longevity studies are actually done at the University of Kentucky Department of Biological Sciences. The SCL acts as a local coordinator for the UKY's Hawai`i collaborators.
The SCL operates a working seed bank, similar to a passbook savings account for seed users. Users who want to store seeds for future use can deposit them in the bank, then withdraw them later. The single largest user is the Hawai`i Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEP). The SCL also acts as a germplasm seed bank, akin to a Noah's Ark or insurance policy for endangered plants. The SCL played a key role in helping to save wiliwili (Erythrina sandwicensis) during the wiliwili gall wasp outbreak in 2005 by storing ~100,00 seeds from all of the main Hawaiian Islands. The Seed Conservation Laboratory currently (July 2012) holds approximately 2,000 accessions, containing 4.5 million seeds.
The SCL began in 1992 as a joint venture between Lyon Arboretum and the University of Hawai`i Center for Conservation Research and Training. The original purpose of the collaboration was to begin a restoration ecology program on the Arboretum grounds. In 1995, the laboratory began research to develop methods for storage of native plant seeds. In 1998, the Secretariat for Conservation Biology (now the HI Conservation Alliance) funded the lab's studies, leading in 2001 to the production of an on-line native plant seed storage manual. In 2000, with help of grants from the US Army Natural Resources Program and the HI State Department of Land and Natural Resources, the lab started a seed bank to conserve seeds of native Hawaiian plants. The seed bank has since become an important part of Hawaiian plant conservation programs.