In This Article Genetic Considerations in Plant Ecological Restoration

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Ecotypic Variation
  • Seed Provenance for Restoration
  • Seed Provenance for Revegetation
  • Life History Traits
  • Moving Beyond Neutral Markers
  • Inbreeding Depression
  • Outbreeding Depression
  • Founder Effects
  • Introgression
  • 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: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0076


Ecological restoration is commonly viewed as an attempt to restore an ecological system to its historical composition, structure, and function, which may not be possible given biotic and abiotic constraints and legacies of past land use. 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. Restoration ecologists can advance ecological and evolutionary theory by using restoration projects as field-based experimental units; however, most ecological restoration activities are not conducted as scientific studies. Ecological restoration research spans different levels of organization from genes to ecosystems. Genetic considerations are fundamental to the success of ecological restoration, from seed source selection to genetic control of ecosystem services. Decisions regarding the use of local versus non-local plant material and the mixing of source populations under different conditions can be based on sound population genetic, ecological, and evolutionary theory research; however, selection of plant material to be used in ecological restoration is often driven by the specific project goals, availability and quality of plant material, 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 provenance for revegetation, life-history traits, moving beyond neutral markers, inbreeding depression, outbreeding depression, founder effects, introgression, 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 of plant ecological restoration link individual genotypic performance to ecosystem function. 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. Introduction to Conservation Genetics (Frankham, et al. 2010) provides a sound population genetic foundation with real-world case studies. The seminal work 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 extensively 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 thirty-nine 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.

  • 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/CBO9780511623325E-mail Citation »

    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.

    E-mail Citation »

    The Center for Plant Conservation (CPC) online resource provides links to thirty-nine leading partner botanical institutions, searchable taxon links, 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

    E-mail Citation »

    Essential resource for ecological restoration researchers and practitioners. Chapter 2, “Population and Ecological Genetics in Restoration Ecology,” 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/CBO9780511809002E-mail Citation »

    Written for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. 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.

  • 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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.

  • 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.

    E-mail Citation »

    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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