New Protocols Will Ensure The Genetic Diversity Of Threatened Trees

In what may be one of the largest tree conservation efforts in recent history, a team of environmental scientists from nine botanic gardens, arboretums, and environmental conservation agencies, as well as international collaborators in the Dominican Republic and Belize, is working to preserve and increase the genetic diversity of the country’s living tree collections. Launched in October 2016, the ambitious, three-year project is a form of insurance for endangered species.

Maintain the genetic diversity

[caption id="attachment_33" align="aligncenter" width="887"] Sinkhole cycad (Zamia decumbens) grows at the bottom of a sinkhole in Belize.[/caption]

“Zoos often have to exchange animals to maintain good genetic diversity across the population. Gardens are just starting to realize they have to manage plant collections in the same way,” says Patrick Griffith, the executive director of the Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables, Florida, who is leading the effort. “We want to know what is the right number of plants to grow in botanic gardens if you want to maintain the genetic diversity of these plant populations.

With support from a $439,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, researchers are collecting and analyzing DNA samples of endangered or threatened woody plants across a broad phylogenetic spectrum, including oaks, magnolias, palms, cycads, and Hawaiian alula (Brighamia insignis).