In the Caribbean Islands global biodiversity hotspot, a highly diverse flora (13,000 plant species, of which 6,550 are endemics) struggles to coexist with a high human population density (164 people per km2; Mittermeier et al., 2011, in Zachos & Habel, Biodiversity Hotspots, pp. 3–22), and overexploitation of natural resources is putting plant diversity and related ecosystem services under threat. A significant step for the effective conservation of the native flora of the Caribbean Islands was taken on 7 February 2017, when the new seed bank of the Jardín Botánico Nacional ‘Dr. Rafael Ma. Moscoso’ of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic was officially launched. This seed bank is the result of a long-term collaboration between the Jardín Botánico Nacional and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and is regulated under an access and benefit-sharing agreement. This started in 2007 within the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership and is continuing through The Global Tree Seed Bank Project, Saving the Threatened Forest of Hispaniola, funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation. This collaboration has already led to the duplication and germination testing of 328 seed lots (194 species) at Kew's Millennium Seed Bank in the UK. In addition, the technical and scientific support of Kew staff during the last 10 years contributed to the design of the Jardín Botánico Nacional seed bank in line with international standards for long-term conservation in gene banks.
The opening of this seed bank not only strengthens the capacity of the Jardín Botánico Nacional to conserve the seeds of the flora of Hispaniola in-country, contributing towards Target 8 of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (At least 75 % of threatened plant species in ex situ collections, preferably in the country of origin, and at least 20% available for recovery and restoration programmes), but will also facilitate research on seed biology of tropical tree species, for which information on seed storage behaviour is currently lacking. In particular, the project is screening the seed storage behaviour of endemic, threatened and useful tree species of the island. The results of this study will facilitate the appropriate seed management of native trees in reforestation programmes on the island.
The Jardín Botánico Nacional seed bank will be a platform for the conservation of the native flora of the Dominican Republic, and for supporting reforestation programmes both there and in neighbouring Haiti. With an emphasis on useful trees, the seed conservation programme will also contribute to the livelihoods of the island and in particular to UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 (Zero Hunger) by maintaining the genetic diversity of seeds, and goal 15 (Life on Land). In addition, the sustainable use of the stored seeds of native species in reforestation programmes will contribute to goal 1 (No Poverty), Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and Goal 13 (Climate Action).
These new facilities and scientific collaboration between the Jardín Botánico Nacional and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, working together with existing governmental and research institutions in the Caribbean Islands, will play a pivotal role in supporting reforestation and livelihoods in the region.