Chicago Botanic Garden

Dr. Jeremie Fant, Chicago Botanical Garden

Many land managers are aware of the value of genetic data for making important decisions for the management of rare species. In the ever-expanding world of Genomics, practitioners now have access to more comprehensive and accurate data. However, the speed of change can make it hard to keep up to date with the technology and to appreciate what it offers, not to mention how to access this technology. After hosting a workshop on genomics tools in Hawai`i, it become clear that there can be a large gap between needs and access. After the workshop, we surveyed the needs of Land Managers working on the restoration of Lobeliod species – one of the most endangered taxonomic groups in Hawai`i. The aim of the survey was to 1) identify common needs, 2) clarify what genomics can offer (potential and limitations), and 3) develop ideas for the best ways of moving forward. This presentation will cover the lesson learned from this survey and hopefully help other land managers identify how they can too incorporate genomics into their management plans.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Kay Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden’s Negaunee Institute for Plant Conservation and Science supports centers of excellence in conservation practice, science, and training, with an emphasis on understudied species with high conservation need. The research focuses primarily on preventing plant extinction, promoting plant diversity, and understanding plant interactions. Actions and outreach include advocacy, conservation synthesis, best practices for restoration and management, and partnerships with stewards and other stakeholders. Capacity-building efforts include graduate programs, internships, and citizen science.

Pitcher’s Thistle, Cirsium pitcheri T. & G. (Asteraceae), is a federally endangered species found on the dunes around Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. The Institute has worked with C. pitcheri on a number of fronts for 20+ years: seed banking, reintroduction, population trends, pest biocontrol, and understanding its role in the pollination network. It is a key resource for pollinators, with an extended blooming season peaking in July. Investigators recorded pollinators visiting the plant species in 40 plots over the course of a summer. They found that C. pitcheri had the most visits of any of the native dune plants observed and the greatest number of pollinator species. It was found to be a keystone species during a period of time when few other plant species were blooming in the sand dune community.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019

Kay Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden

Plant conservation is promoted through outreach and advocacy. One way to cure plant blindness is by engaging the public in authentic research, as illustrated by the Bud Burst citizen science program. After 10 years of crowdsourcing phenology data, Bud Burst managers decided they could better engage the public by bringing them on a journey of research: asking a question, collecting and analyzing data, and drawing conclusions. The question currently under investigation at five sites across the U.S. is whether cultivars of native species provide the same pollinator support as true, wild-type natives.

Government officials must also learn to value plants and plant communities. The Chicago Botanical Garden recently collaborated with the Garden Society of America and other groups to write HR1572, the Botanical Sciences and Native Plant Materials Research Restoration and Promotion Act. The bill creates an educational tool for elected officials, media and the public, and it encourages introduction of legislative proposals and enactment into law. The main aims of the bill are to fund needed research, encourage students to train for careers in botany and land management, and build a market for native plant materials.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019

Jeremie Fant, Chicago Botanic Garden

This talk highlights the Chicago Botanic Garden’s work on adapting zoo conservation approaches for exceptional plant species. Challenges in ex situ conservation include genetic issues that arise from limited numbers of individuals and founders, and husbandry and hybridization issues encountered during the growing out of collections. A significant advantage in plant conservation is that seeds can be collected for a vast majority of plants. One example is the CBG's Dixon Tallgrass Prairie Seedbank, which has more than 1,700 species and 10,000 accessions. 

Although banking options are more restricted in animal conservation, other approaches used by the zoo community can be adapted to improve success rates in ex situ plant conservation programs. One such approach is pedigree analysis, which shifts focus from high numbers of individuals to equal numbers of founders. The CBG is testing pedigree analysis on several species, as illustrated by work done with Brighamia insignis. The steps include tracking founders by creating a pedigree of collections, calculating relatedness between all individuals, and making management decisions. This method enables researchers to identify genetically valuable individuals across collections, use life span of a species in collections to determine the sample size needed to maintain a collection, and identify crosses needed to increase diversity and improve collection robustness.

One of the next steps planned by the CBG is to identify collection plants less valuable for maintaining genetic diversity, and use them to test restoration techniques. The ultimate goal is to use ex situ collections for restoration of rare species in the field.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019

Daniella DeRose, Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden’s Plants of Concern (POC) program is a collaboration between citizen scientists, natural resource managers, and researchers to collect data on rare plant populations in northeastern Illinois. The primary goal is to identify best conservation practices, while creating awareness and providing education on why conservation matters. POC engages citizen scientists, collects census data on rare plant populations—including identifying invasive species, threats, and evidence of management—and provides data to land managers. Data generated by POC inform the Illinois rare species listing process and are used by land managers to understand population trends and prioritize activities. Program monitors also serve as ecological site stewards. POC has monitored 292 species and 2453 populations, trained 953 volunteers, and worked with 135 landowners as of December 2018. POC trains its citizen scientists to collect standardized data. Partners include volunteer groups, government agencies, private landowners, and researchers.

POC is learning how management impacts rare species. Hill’s thistle, Cirsium hillii, is a habitat specialist threatened by habitat loss and lack of management. Although monitoring and management data suggested that burning and brush removal increase population size, in-depth study revealed a discrepancy between census size and effective population size. POC founder Susanne Masi led level 2 monitoring efforts looking at demography of C. hillii. CBG scientist Jeremie Fant & MS students Abigail White and Nora Gavin-Smyth found that most populations are highly clonal. Self-incompatibility, low flowering rates, and lack of compatible mates lead to low/no seed set, but genetic augmentation (introduced pollen) is able to reduce mate limitation. Based on these results, POC modified its monitoring protocol for C. hillii, introducing a minimum size for identifying individuals. CBG scientist Jacob Zeldin developed new micropropagation techniques that allow for the rapid and controlled cloning of individual C. hillii genotypes year-round with minimal space and materials. Land managers are now interested in using genetic augmentation for this species, sharing genetic material between sites.

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, May 2, 2019

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.

Contributing Author(s): 
Date Recorded: 
Friday, May 4, 2018