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Home Publications Forest Nursery Notes 2009 Winter Forest Nursery Notes 2009 Winter Forest Nursery Notes - New Nursery Literature Intraspecific Chromosome Number Variation: A Neglected Threat to the Conservation of Rare Plants

Intraspecific Chromosome Number Variation: A Neglected Threat to the Conservation of Rare Plants

Severns, P. M. and Liston, A. Conservation Biology 22 (6):1641-1647. 2009.

The effectiveness of rare plant conservation will increase when life history, demographic, and genetic data are considered simultaneously. Inbreeding depression is a widely recognized genetic concern in rare plant conservation, and the mixing of genetically diverse populations in restoration efforts is a common remedy. Nevertheless, if populations with unrecognized intraspecific chromosome variation are crossed, progeny fitness losses will range from partial to complete sterility, and reintroductions and population augmentation of rare plants may fail. To assess the current state of cytological knowledge of threatened and endangered plants in the continental United States, we searched available resources for chromosome counts. We also reviewed recovery plans to discern whether recovery criteria potentially place listed species at risk by requiring reintroductions or population augmentation in the absence of cytological information. Over half the plants lacked a chromosome count, and when a taxon did have a count it generally originated from a sampling intensity too limited to detect intraspecific chromosome variation. Despite limited past cytological sampling, we found 11 plants with documented intraspecific cytological variation, while 8 others were ambiguous for intraspecific chromosome variation. Nevertheless, only one recovery plan addressed the chromosome differences. Inadequate within-species cytological characterization, incomplete sampling among listed taxa, and the prevalence of interspecific and intraspecific chromosome variation in listed genera, suggests that other rare plants are likely to have intraspecific chromosome variation. Nearly 90% of all recovery plans called for reintroductions or population augmentation as part of recovery criteria despite the dearth of cytological knowledge. We recommend screening rare plants for intraspecific chromosome variation before reintroductions or population augmentation projects are undertaken to safeguard against inadvertent mixtures of incompatible cytotypes.

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Author(s): P. M. Severns, A. Liston

Section: Diverse Species

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