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Preparing plant conservation for the future: Evolutionary aspects in ex-situ conservation and plant reintroduction

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The conservation of threatened plant species ex situ has become a central concept to buffer the ongoing wave of species extinctions in situ. Botanic gardens are core facilities to cultivate plants ex situ in living collections and to store the seeds in seed banks. However, risks associated to the potential evolutionary changes in these collections and their effects on the success of reintroductions have been rarely tested. These risks include changes in the functional traits of the cultivated plants, and in the genetic variation in those traits, which represents the potential of the plants to evolve with climate change. In the light of ongoing rapid climate change, trait shifts and reduced genetic variation in traits could therefore impede the suitability of the plants for successful reintroductions. However, whether plants originating from living collections in botanic gardens have lower survival when reintroduced than plants directly grown from seeds from wild populations has not been tested. Also, seed banks have been increasingly promoted because genetic changes are less likely to occur when seeds are frozen. However, banked seed do not follow the evolution of wild plants with climate change, therefore possibly representing plant adaptations to past conditions. In this project, we assess whether ex-situ living collections and seed banks can accurately preserve life-history traits and quantitative trait variability of wild populations and whether differences in traits and in genetic variation of the traits between garden-collected and wild-collected plants affect survival and early establishment of the plants when reintroduced into their wild habitat. We address these issues by using a broad approach including a common-garden experiment and a reintroduction experiment in the field. This project allows to make a significant contribution to the optimization of ex-situ conservation strategies as well as to our understanding of how to increase the success of plant reintroductions

StatusIn execution
Period1/03/16 → …
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