Mathematical Modeling of Seed Bank Dynamics

When a new virus wipes out crops, or a natural disaster destroys the world’s supply of staple food, Seed Bank keep us alive. Like a savings account, they provide an insurance policy by saving seeds that can be planted in the future to replace a variety of species and protect human nutrition.

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Seed banks, which can operate at global, national or community level, are vital to preserving agrobiodiversity and building the resilience of food systems. They collect and store seeds for a wide range of purposes, from conservation and research to restocking populations and restoring habitats.

Globally, 1,750 banks conserve the seeds of more than 50,000 taxa, mostly crops and wild plants. Many of these can be stored under standard freezer conditions for decades or even centuries. But some taxa require more sophisticated storage methods or cryogenic technologies to survive.

Seeds gathered for seed banks are generally kept dormant in cool, dry conditions to avoid the risk of germinating and becoming vulnerable to predation or infection by fungi. Periodically, they are used to grow new plants that will produce fresh seeds for re-stocking the bank and to ensure the collection has the genetic diversity needed for future replanting.

Dormant seeds possess important characteristics, such as their evolutionary histories and demographic properties, which affect a range of macroscale phenomena. These factors, along with the relative sizes of pools and transition probabilities, can influence seed-bank dynamics. Mathematical models and computational approaches, adapted from fields such as information science and ecology, can be used to model these dynamical processes.

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