Using a zoo model to conserve genetic diversity of critically endangered species ex situ

Jordan Wood, Jeremie Fant, Andrea Kramer and Kay Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden

Genetics becomes important whenever populations become small (<100). This includes loss o fgenetic diversity from drift, increased expression of deleterious genes due to inbreeding, and limiting local adaptation. Since many species of plants are able to be seed banked, it is possible to maintain numbers well above these critical genetic thresholds. However for exceptional species, which can only be maintained as living plants, or for critically endangered species where remaining individuals are already below these numbers, the need to consider the remaining genetic diversity becomes critical. Importantly, the management focus shifts from saving a population to preserving each genetically unique individual. When you have such small numbers, it is critical to know how each individual contributes to the overall genetic diversity remaining. We are working with National Tropical Botanic Gardens (Hawaiʻi) to develop a multi-institution species management and breeding plan for Ālula(Brighamia insignis)that will ultimately support its restoration to the wild. To do this we are working with scientists at the Chicago Zoological Society to modify management software that incorporates genetics and demography information to maintain the long-term health of their captive populations of animals over the long term. Through this case study, we hope to develop collections management practices for plants that preserve important genetic diversity while identifying genetically appropriate individuals to using in crosses and that can ultimately be used to create resilient populations that can be used in reintroductions.

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