In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Genetic Considerations in Plant Ecological Restoration

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Ecotypic Variation
  • Seed Provenance for Restoration
  • Seed Transfer Zones for Restoration
  • Seed Provenance for Revegetation
  • Life History Traits
  • Moving beyond Neutral Markers
  • Inbreeding Depression
  • Outbreeding Depression
  • Founder Effects
  • Fitness Consequences of Reduced Genetic Variation
  • Community and Landscape Genetics
  • Testing Genotypic Effects on Community and Ecosystem Processes
  • Evaluating Success
  • Genetic Composition and Diversity in Restored Populations

Ecology Genetic Considerations in Plant Ecological Restoration
Danny J. Gustafson, Alexis Gibson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 October 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0076


Ecological restoration is most commonly described as the process of aiding in the recovery of a damaged or destroyed system. In many cases, restoration may not be possible when self-sustaining populations, functions, and trajectories cannot be maintained due to the type of disturbance sustained by a site; in these cases, revegetation or remediation are more achievable goals. The definition of ecological restoration has been expanded to incorporate scientific inquiry into the process of the recovery of a natural range of ecosystem composition, structure, and dynamics. Ecological restoration research spans different levels of organization from genes to ecosystems. Genetic considerations are fundamental to the success of ecological restoration, and considerations of this issue will impact choices from seed source selection to genetic control of ecosystem services. A major decision for restorationists is the use of local versus nonlocal plant material, as well as the mixing of source populations; ideally, these choices can be based on sound population genetic, ecological, and evolutionary theory research. Ultimately, selection of plant material to be used in ecological restoration is driven by the specific project goals, availability and quality of plant materials, site conditions, and scale of the project. Beyond the local versus nonlocal selection issue, genetic issues related to small population dynamics, gene flow in the modern landscape, and gene expression affecting community structure and ecosystem functions can affect the success of ecological restoration activities. This article focuses primarily on plants; however, issues related to genetics of small populations (inbreeding and outbreeding depression, founder effects, and fitness consequences of reduced genetic variation) are important considerations for animal species too. The readings contained within this bibliography include: Ecotypic Variation, Seed Provenance for Restoration, Seed Transfer Zones for Restoration, Seed Provenance for Revegetation, Life History Traits, Moving beyond Neutral Markers, Inbreeding Depression, Outbreeding Depression, Founder Effects, Fitness Consequences of Reduced Genetic Variation, Community and Landscape Genetics, Testing Genotypic Effects on Community and Ecosystem Processes, Evaluating Success, and Genetic Composition and Diversity in Restored Populations.

General Overviews

Genetic considerations for plant ecological restoration link individual genotypic performance to ecosystem function. For those interested in this topic, numerous general resources provide a foundation for understanding how genetic considerations interact with plant materials selection. Foundations of Ecological Restoration (Falk, et al. 2006), published by Island Press in cooperation with the Society for Ecological Restoration International (SER), provides sixteen chapters written by international experts and is organized into three broad sections (ecological theory and the restoration of populations and communities, restoring ecological function, and restoration ecology in context). Included in this essential text is a chapter on population and ecological genetics in restoration ecology that is an updated and expanded version of an earlier introduction to restoration genetics, Falk, et al. 2001. A second edition, Palmer, et al. 2016 updates and expands the advances in the field of restoration ecology. Introduction to Conservation Genetics (Frankham, et al. 2010) provides a sound foundation in population genetics with real-world case studies. In addition, Introduction to Conservation Genetics (Frankham, et al. 2010) provides a thorough foundation in population genetic with real-world case studies. The seminal work of Falk and Holsinger 1991 articulates population biology and genetics concerns for small plant populations as well as provides strategies for sampling and conservation genetic variation. Bowles and Whelan 1994 includes chapters on genetic considerations, life-history traits, and species interactions when restoring endangered plant and animal species. While the case studies are primarily from the Great Plains and western North America, Rogers and Montalvo 2004 considers genetic diversity and genetic integrity essential components of source material selection for restoration using native plant species. Guerrant, et al. 2004 demonstrates the value of ex situ facilities (i.e., botanical gardens and seed banks) to species conservation and restoration. Of particular interest to genetic considerations for ecological restoration are the two chapters on population genetic issues and quantitative genetics. The Center for Plant Conservation is a network of fifty-seven leading botanical institutions whose primary mission is to conserve and restore imperiled native plants of the United States. This organization coordinates a national ex situ rare plant material conservation program that ensures that material is available for restoration and recovery efforts, technical assistance, and educational and advocacy support through the network, national office, and online resources. Although focused on rare plant species, Maschinski and Albrecht 2017 provides a succinct overview from the Center for Plant Conservation of best practice guidelines for reintroduction that are applicable for any plant restoration project.

  • Bowles, Marlin L., and Christopher J. Whelan, eds. 1994. Restoration of endangered species: Conceptual issues, planning and implementation. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511623325

    A collection and expansion of papers from a Symposium on Recovery and Restoration of Endangered Plants and Animals organized for the Second Annual Conference of the Society for Ecological Restoration held in Chicago, Illinois, 1990. This book includes influential chapters on plant population genetics (Fenster and Dudash), reproductive biology and life history traits (Weller), and plant-insect interactions (Louda).

  • Center for Plant Conservation.

    The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) online resource provides links to fifty-seven leading partner botanical institutions, searchable taxon links, a conservation directory, and resources. “Plant Links” provides access to online databases, organizations (state to international), native plant societies, and natural heritage programs. “Conservation Directory” is searchable by state, expertise, and name.

  • Falk, Donald A., and Kent E. Holsinger, eds. 1991. Genetics and conservation of rare plants. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Seminal work in plant conservation genetics because of its thoughtful coverage of a wide range of issues related to rare plant biology and conservation. The book, which, according to its preface, grew from papers originally presented at a Conference on the Genetics and Conservation of Rare Plants coordinated by the Center for Plant Conservation and held at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis in March 1989, is organized into five sections, is well written, and very approachable for graduate students as well as professional scientists.

  • Falk, Donald A., Eric E. Knapp, and Edgar O. Guerrant. 2001. An introduction to restoration genetics. Washington, DC: Society for Ecological Restoration.

    Useful for practitioners with limited population genetics training, discusses authenticity (accuracy) restoration versus restoring a functional population/community, complexities of source material selection (space for genotype substitution, 1,000-foot elevation bands or 100 miles lateral distance), and offers a helpful section on sampling the diversity of source populations.

  • Falk, Donald A., Margaret A. Palmer, and Joy B. Zedler, eds. 2006. Foundations of restoration ecology. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    Essential resource for ecological restoration researchers and practitioners. Chapter 5, “Population and Ecological Genetics in Restoration Ecology” (pp. 123–152), provides a succinct and well-written review of genetic considerations for restoring plant populations.

  • Frankham, Richard, Jonathan D. Ballou, and David A. Briscoe. 2010. Introduction to conservation genetics. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511809002

    The book illustrates topics such as evolutionary genetics, loss of diversity, inbreeding, population fragmentation, taxonomic uncertainties, the genetic management of threatened species, and molecular genetics with real-world examples. Reference to statistical genetic packages is helpful for early carrier restoration professionals. Written for advanced undergraduates and graduate students.

  • Guerrant, Edward O., Kayri Havens, and Mike Mauder, eds. 2004. Ex situ plant conservation: Supporting species survival in the wild. Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    Ex situ conservation has a vital role in conservation programs throughout the world. Ethical and philosophical concerns of ex situ programs, common horticultural practices, genetic considerations for sampling, seed storage, and management of collections are addressed in this edited book.

  • Maschinski, Joyce, and Matthew A. Albrecht. 2017. Center for Plant Conservations’s best practice guidelines for the reintroduction of rare plants. Plant Diversity 39.6: 390–395.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.pld.2017.09.006

    Short review of the best management practices for plant reintroductions, advocating for genetic considerations based on empirical data, developing a meaningful monitoring, and conducting reintroductions as experiments.

  • Palmer, Margaret A., Joy B. Zedler, and Donald A. Falk, eds. 2016. Foundations of restoration ecology. 2d ed. Washington, DC: Island Press.

    This second edition incorporates advanced work in the field of restoration ecology, expands the scope of the topics covered, and provides examples of how theory informs on-the-ground restoration efforts.

  • Rogers, Deborah L., and Arlee M. Montalvo. 2004. Genetically appropriate choices for plant materials to maintain biological diversity. Report to the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region. Lakewood, CO: Univ. of California.

    This extensively referenced document is organized from genetic principles to specific decisions to case studies. The first several chapters address why genetic diversity and genetic integrity are important to native plant species, the relationship between genetics and ecology, and genetic selection of plant materials followed by case studies. The authors also provide a process for aiding decisions about seed sourcing.

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