Science stimulates rare tree surge

The population of a critically endangered plant species only found on the NSW north coast has leapt from 10 to more than 1500 trees in just a decade.

Coastal fontainea (Fontainea oraria) flowers and beetle

SoS Senior Threatened Species Project Officer Dianne Brown said thanks to clear-thinking scientists, NSW Government funding and the community, Coastal Fontainea now has a far better chance of surviving.

“In 2010 we had just 10 adult trees left – only one of which was female – and genetic testing on the seedlings showed inbreeding. Safeguarding Coastal Fontainea’s future was critical,” she said.

The NSW Government’s Saving our Species (SoS) program sought scientific advice from the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney on establishing viable populations – as a result, cuttings were taken from the 10 remaining trees and planted in small clumps across private and public land.

“Today, we have 1,564 Coastal Fontainea plants, some of which have grown to 5m tall. Many are now flowering, fruiting and producing seedlings with a broader genetic pool. We are thrilled with the results,” Ms Brown said.

The Garden’s Senior Principal Research Scientist, Dr Maurizio Rossetto said it was yet another positive case study demonstrating successful ecological restoration work backed by science.

“It’s an exciting outcome as we’ve taken a threatened species with a decreasing gene pool, and used simple genetic information to effectively turn the situation around and secure this species’ future,” Dr Rossetto said.

NSW Government funding has amounted to more than $100,000 over 13 years, with the project led by SoS since 2015. Founding organisations were North Coast LLS and the Environmental Trust, and key project partners the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Bushland Restoration Services, Landmark Ecological Services, Firewheel Rainforest Nursery, and local landholders.

Coastal Fontainea is a small evergreen tree which grows to around 8-10m in height and is only found on volcanic soils in the littoral rainforest near Lennox Head. It has shiny dark-green leaves and small white flowers.

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