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The importance of quantitative trait differentiation in habitat restoration

Successful restoration of habitats relies on the sourcing of seed appropriate to the restoration environment. The use of non-adapted genotypes can compromise the long-term success of restoration programmes if fitness of translocated individuals is reduced. This is particularly true for grassland ecosystems, which remain one of the most threatened ecosystems globally due to a combination of land use change and habitat fragmentation. Therefore, it is critical that we have a good understanding of the scale over which adaptive plant traits have evolved prior to the transfer of seeds from one environment to another. 

Understanding the eco-geographic scale over which genetic differences have evolved to influence plant function for widespread species that originate across a range of environments, such as Geum triflorum (above in a prairie environment)will be critical to establishing seed transfer recommendations for successful restorations. Image credit: J. Hamilton.

In a new study published in AoBP, Yoko et al. established a common garden experiment using the widespread North American perennial Geum triflorum to examine trait differences attributable to regional or population environments. The authors sourced seeds from 22 populations of G. trifolium from a large portion of the species range spanning the USA and Canadian border, from the Great Lake Alvar populations in Ontario in the east and the Prairie populations of Alberta and Montana in the west. The authors found environmental differences associated with regional climate significantly influenced the distribution of functional trait variation across seed sources. Water availability was particularly important in driving functional traits patterns across the landscape. The authors conclude that it is indeed important to minimize environmental differences when transferring seed from origin to restoration site and that assessing regional climatic differences provides a first step to determining seed transfer recommendations.

This article was published in the AoBP Special Issue entitled The Ecology and Genetics of Population Differentiation in Plants.

William Salter

William (Tam) Salter is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. He has a bachelor degree in Ecological Science (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in plant ecophysiology from the University of Sydney. Tam is interested in the identification and elucidation of plant traits that could be useful for ecosystem resilience and future food security under global environmental change. He is also very interested in effective scientific communication.

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