Science of Saving Species

Sean Hoban, Emma Spence, and Patrick Thompson, The Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum seeks to improve the conservation value and genetic representation in ex situ collections by developing guidance for sampling seed. One example regards IUCN Critically Endangered Quercus boyntonii (Boynton sand post oak), which is endemic to Alabama and only occurs on exposed sandstone outcrops.In situ threats include overcrowding by invasive species, off trail disturbance by humans, and the threat of wildfires. To help safeguard this species in case wild populations are lost, we compared genetic diversity of wild Quercus boyntonii populations to ex situ collections. We collected 246 individuals from 11 locations in the wild and 77 samples from 14 botanic gardens across the United States. We used microsatellite DNA markers to quantify genetic variation existing in the wild samples and calculate the proportion of genetic variation that exists in ex situ collections. This is a direct measure of the success of the collective efforts to build conservation collections. We found that current ex situ collections capture approximately 78% of overallgenetic diversity, and 100% of common alleles. We also used a resampling technique to determine how efficient this collection is, and we showed that a smallerex situcollection may be sufficient if it is carefully planned. The overall message is that ex situ collections of a taxon spread across a number of institutions can safeguard a species’ genetic diversity. This work is part of a large, multi-institution project in which genetic variation in ex situ collections of 10 species will be quantified. Our end goal is to provide advice to the garden community about how to establish and maintain ex situ tree collections, which includes initiatives to distribute germplasm collaboratively.

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

Kim McCue, Shannon Felberg and Steve Blackwell
Desert Botanic Garden

Date Recorded: 
Friday, May 4, 2018

Carrie Sekerak, Deputy District Ranger, Ocala National Forest

Carrie Sekerak presents on the state of the isolated wetlands of Ocala National Forest. She describes the current issues faced in isolated wetland management, and gives a snapshot of best practices being applied. 

Date Recorded: 
Thursday, March 5, 2020

Dr. Johnny Randall, North Carolina Botanical Garden

The infamous Venus flytrap, Dionaea muscipula, found across North Carolina and into South Carolina, has been seen to be declining in recent years. It is currently under review for federal listing, is ranked G2 on NatureServe, and considered vulnerable by RedList. Threats to this charismatic plant include poaching, trampling, and changes in fire and hydrology. Dr. Randall of the North Carolina Botanical Garden is conducting a double-pronged conservation effort, collecting and banking seeds by maternal line, and doing genetic analysis across the populations. Results from the genetic data suggest four distinct clusters that closely match phylogeographic areas.

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

Jessica L. Allen, PhD, Southeastern Center for Conservation, Atlanta Botanical Garden

Dr. Allen outlines a conservation genomics approach to assessing genetic diversity between geographically separated populations of the Rock Gnome lichen, a Southern Appalachian endemic. Her results show that each locale sampled has a genetically distinct population. This suggests that the management plan for this lichen should include protecting all of the occurrences in order to preserve the greatest amount of genetic diversity within the species.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dr. Carlos Ramirez-Reyes1, D. Todd Jones-Farrand3, Garret Street1,2, Francisco Vilella4, Kristine O. Evans 1,2

1. Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, Mississippi State University

2. Quantitative Ecology & Spatial Technologies Laboratory, Mississippi State University

3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 302 Natural Resources, University of Missouri 4. U.S. Geological Survey, Mississippi Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Effective conservation planning requires reliable information on the distribution of species, which is often incomplete due to limited availability of data. Species distribution models (SDMs) and associated tools have proliferated in the past decades and have proven valuable in evaluating suitability and critical habitat for species. However, conservation practitioners have not fully adopted SDMs to inform surveys and other monitoring efforts. Instead, most efforts rely on expert knowledge and other traditional methods to locate extant populations. In particular, the Species Status Assessment (SSA) initiative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would benefit from incorporating SDM approaches to facilitate conservation decisions. Here, we describe an SDM approach for at-risk species that could be considered for SSA and similar species monitoring efforts. We applied 4 modeling techniques (generalized additive, maximum entropy, generalized boosted, and weighted ensemble) to recent monitoring data for 4 at-risk plant species (Scutellaria ocmulgee, Balduina atropurpurea, Rhynchospora crinipes and Torreya taxifolia) in the Southeastern U.S. Our results showed that ensemble distribution models reduced uncertainty caused by differences among modeling techniques and improved the predictive accuracy of fitted models. These models highlight areas with high habitat suitability for a particular species and therefore candidates for additional monitoring and survey efforts. We suggest that this approach could be adopted into the SSA framework to develop more robust and efficient assessments of at-risk species.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dr. Sean Hoban, The Morton Arboretum, Taylor Callicrate, Species Conservation Toolkit Initiative, Chicago Zoological Society, Susan Deans, Plant Biology and Conservation Program, Northwestern University, Michael Dosmann, The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Jeremie Fant, Chicago Botanic Garden, Oliver Gailing, University of Göttingen, Kayri Havens, Chicago Botanic Garden, Andrew Hipp, The Morton Arboretum, Priyanka Kadav, Michigan Technological University, Andrea Kramer, Chicago Botanic Garden, Matthew Lobdell, The Morton Arboretum, Tracy Magellan, Abby Meyer, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, Emma Spence, Center for Tree Science, The Morton Arboretum, Patrick Thompson, Auburn University Raakel Toppila, Seana Walsh, National Tropical Botanical Garden, Murphy Westwood, The Morton Arboretum, Jordan Wood, Illinois Natural History Survey, M. Patrick Griffith, Montgomery Botanical Center

Ex situ collections such as botanic gardens inspire and educate the public, provide material for scientific study, and produce material for ecological restoration. The challenge for an efficient and effective collection is safeguarding high genetic and ecological diversity in as few samples as possible, due to the relatively small resources available for conservation. A botanic garden might have resources to maintain a few to a few hundred plants of priority species in conservation collections, but not the thousands that seed banks can preserve. Providing scientifically grounded recommendations for the number of individuals that need to be conserved, and how to collect from the wild and manage collections over time, is a pressing need. Previous work using case studies and modeling of important biological traits has established the fact that some species must be sampled differently, and that widely used standard sample sizes might not be optimal practice for capturing the maximum diversity. We present here a comparative study of ex situ gene conservation in three southeastern oaks (Quercus georgiana, oglethorpensis and boyntonii) and two magnolias (M. pyramidata and asheii). Specifically, we use genetic datasets and resampling algorithms to: quantify how much genetic diversity has been captured in a global network of botanic garden collections currently, resample the wild population genetic datasets to determine how much genetic diversity could be captured by varying sample sizes, determine minimal sampling needed to capture 70% and 95% of the genetic diversity, and use a diminishing returns method to calculate optimal stopping points- when additional collection effort no longer provides sufficient gains. Between 62 and 72% of genetic diversity is currently safeguarded for the oaks, and about 80% is conserved for the magnolias. The recommended collection size depends on key decisions by curators about the type of genetic diversity that is valued, but may range from approximately 50 to 200 individuals. We hope that these findings motivate future seed collections from wild provenances for botanic garden collections and stimulate discussion on ex situ gene conservation goals and outcomes.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Christina Carrero, The Morton Arboretum, Emily Coffey, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Patrick Griffith, Montgomery Botanical Center

A 2019 study by Griffith, et al. showed that gardens must collaborate to conserve genetic diversity, especially for exceptional species whose seeds cannot be properly seed banked. This process of capturing the genetic diversity of exceptional species in ex situ collections requires a tailored strategy for each species, emphasizing the need for a coordinated effort by botanic gardens. By working through networked consortia, botanic gardens can implement innovative solutions to safeguard these species in a changing world. We highlight a new initiative to conserve genetic diversity of exceptional species through a coordinated effort of gardens, using oak, magnolia, maple, and cycad consortia as case-studies. We outline the challenges and opportunities of conserving exceptional species within these distinct plant groups, providing solutions and recommendations that can guide collection efforts for other groups.The audience will gain a better understanding of exceptional plant species, conservation challenges, and innovative solutions. Participants will be provided with the tools and framework to join or create a consortium as a way to contribute to the conservation efforts of threatened exceptional plants. Our hope is that these presentations will gain new consortium members, growing a diverse, coordinated network of institutions and experts who will advance our goal in preventing the extinction of the world’s exceptional species. Ultimately, by working through networked consortia, the sum of our efforts is greater than its parts.

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

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

Gavin Shotts, Department of Biological Sciences, Auburn University Bashira Chowdhury, Department of Entomology & Plant Pathology, Auburn University

Producing seeds is critical to maintaining sustainable populations and adaptive genetic diversity for the Southeast's threatened flowering plants. Seed production often depends on adequate pollination, which is a frequent concern for threatened plants, and addressing pollination problems will improve recovery outcomes. We present a framework for applying insights from pollination ecology to species recovery, specifically how patterns of pollen movement and dependency on animal diversity can inform recovery actions. We use available data on breeding traits, mating systems, and pollinator diversity to produce targeted goals achievable under common strategies like outplanting or in concert with insect conservation actions. To provide context for this framework, we review the pollination ecology of federal and state-listed endangered and threatened plants in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, highlighting three species (Apios priceana, Spigelia gentianoides, and Geum radiatum) that exemplify how floral and insect data can support recovery goals.

Date Recorded: 
Wednesday, March 4, 2020