Best conservation practices consider both genetics and biology

“Restoring diverse vegetation along the Atlantic seaboard after devastating hurricanes or replanting forests after destructive wildfires rests mightily upon one tiny but important ingredient: the seed.

Seeds are also important for conserving rare species, from trees to shrubs to other flowering plants. For example, the recently discovered Trillium tennesseense is only known in three locations in East Tennessee.

“But seeds must be saved the right way.

“Including a species’ biology in sample guideline calculations can dramatically improve sampling effectiveness, according to a new study from the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis.

“For a long time, seed sampling guidelines have typically been quite general: the same recommended minimum sample applied to all species, roughly 50 seeds per population, whether a towering tree, widespread grass, or a small bee-pollinated herb. Such recommendations were based on genetic theory without considering plant ecology and reproductive biology.

“In the new study, published today in the journal Biological Conservation, researchers tested the importance of three factors in seed sampling: a species’ “selfing” rate, or rate at which a species pollinates itself, its seed and pollen dispersal distances, and whether an annual or perennial.”  –Source:

GR:  As good stewards, we could be restoring healthy conditions in burned, clear-cut, flooded, and overgrazed vegetation. If we were giving restoration the proper amount of attention, we would refine many of our practices.  In the study discussed above, the researchers studied the genetic variability of seeds and discovered that obtaining adequately variable seed collections requires that seed sample sizes vary with species’ reproductive traits.

Of course, we could consider other things.  For instance, we might find that genetic variability is related to species interaction strategies and to their spatial distribution, their areography.  However, our species has not become a good steward.  We know about many factors that we haven’t taken time to understand well enough to apply to our stewardship practices. And now, the news is that we are going to destroy a large portion of the species that ecosystems need to remain stable and productive.


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