Mrs. Meyers tours Chicago in support of Center for Plant Conservation

Mrs. Meyer’s + Center for Plant Conservation 

Saving Plants

Spring Tour: Rooted in Goodness – now in Chicago

Mrs. Meyer’s + Center for Plant Conservation

Saving Plants

Spring Tour: Rooted in Goodness – now in Chicago

Field of tulips at Chicago Botanic Gardens.  PHOTO CREDIT: Christa Horn, Center for Plant Conservation.

Coming Together in Chicago

CPC 2019 Annual National Meeting

The strength of CPC is the network, the collective knowledge of the Participating Institutions. And the National Meeting is the time for the network to shine. Hosted by the Chicago Botanic Garden, over 100 participants from some 40 institutions came together to share their lessons learned, successes, and struggles in their efforts to save plants. The importance of sharing – methods, stories, data, and more – was a common theme throughout the network. There are more people and institutions to share with each year. The network is growing, with eight new institutions welcomed in 2018 (7 of which were represented at the meeting!), and an additional two already added in 2019. With the expansion of CPC’s web resources through Plant Nucleus – a new platform shared with conservation officers for beta-testing at the meeting – we hope to bring this amazing conservation community together virtually year-round.

The lightning talks, ranging from 2-5 minutes, have become a highlight of each CPC National Meeting, with each institution able to share a snippet of the conservation activities occurring at their garden. However, some topics demand more time and thus the meeting features an Educational Series Presentation. This year, Matthew Albrecht, Ph.D., shared some of the lessons learned from mining the decades of restoration projects and monitoring results included in the CPC Restoration Database. Focusing on “Monitoring and Data Sharing”, Matthew outlined ten key components for every monitoring plan. These components span the life of a project – which is probably longer than you think: determining whether a project is successful or not requires long-term monitoring and an understanding of whether or not the species is reproducing. And of course, following a recurring theme of the meeting, data collected for a restoration project should be shared and leveraged to increase our general understanding of the steps needed for successful plant conservation.

Trout lilies dotted the grounds at Chicago Botanic Garden. Photo credit: Christa Horn, Center for Plant Conservation.

Group photo from the CPC 2019 National Meeting in Chicago

CPC 2019 Annual Meeting attendees. Over 100 participants from some 40 institutions came together to share research and knowledge this May. Photo credit: Robin Carlson, courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden.

Photo from CPC National Meeting poster session

For the first time the National Meeting included a poster session, to allow more Participating Institutions to share their work. Photo credit: Robin Carlson, courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden.

Photo of CPC 2019 National Meeting attendees exploring Morton Arboretum prairie restoration experiment

During Saturday’s field trip, Morton Arboretum staff explained the complicated National Science Foundation funded prairie restoration experiment. The study explores the impacts of diversity on restoration success. Photo credit: Christa Horn, Center for Plant Conservation.

Changing the Approach

Chicago Botanic Garden

B.insignis outplanted in former range at LImahuli Garden

B.insignis outplanted in former range at LImahuli Garden. Plants maintained in ex situ collections, such as this cabbage on a stick in Llmahuli Garden, may be key to not only maintaining the species, but working towards recovery. Photo credit: Seana Walsh, National Tropical Botanic Garden.

alula plants

Chicago Botanic Gardens cares for several alula plants, descendent from the original wild collected seed as the main ex situ population at National Tropical Botanic Gardens (NTBG). And they aren’t the only ones, with individuals at San Diego Zoo, UC Botanic Garden, and more. Some of these collections have the genetic diversity that has diappeared from NTBG’s population and will be key to interbreeding using the studbook approach.

Based on contributions from Jeremie Fant, Ph.D.

Growing on a cliff side in Hawaii a lone alula, or cabbage on a stick (Brighamia insignis) is the last natural, wild member of its species. Fortunately, seed from some 15 individuals had been collected decades ago and the species has persisted in ex situ, that is away from its natural environment, in collections at CPC institutions, allowing the species to persist. But that didn’t mean this unique, Hawaiian endemic was in the clear.

Though seeds were collected along maternal lines and the lead institution, National Tropical Botanical Garden (NTBG), has taken great care to make sure those lines are all represented in each generation they propagate, the main alula collection has shown signs of inbreeding depression (some flower anthers were not developing and hand pollination efforts were not always taking). A genetics study revealed that some of the genetic diversity from the wild had been lost. Preserving the remaining diversity, and maybe even gaining the lost diversity, became a primary goal in maintaining this species. This is where Jeremie Fant, Ph.D., and his molecular ecology lab at Chicago Botanic Garden have been able to help.

Jeremie and his team are drawing on various technologies, from genomics to data sharing, to help take a new approach to maintaining ex situ collections, starting with alula. And the inspiration for the approach came from an unexpected place – the tale of the black-footed ferret.

Once extinct in the wild, U.S. Fish and Wildlife began a breeding program with just 18 ferrets to serve as the founders in the late 1980s. Using assisted reproduction and carefully planned studbooks (a record of pedigrees that informs who should breed with who next) to maintain genetic variability, black-footed ferrets have thrived in captivity and have been successfully reintroduced in the wild. Now there are 18 wild populations, five of them self-sustaining. When Jeremie was thinking about alula and other rare plants with a small number of individuals, he couldn’t help but think of the ferrets and their immense success with such a small number of founders. It dawned on him that careful use of pedigrees could be used to help plant species.

Zoos have been using studbooks for decades to help them maintain ex situ populations and help rare species recover. But the plant world has relied more on maternal lines maintenance – even when hand pollination has been necessary and thus the plant paternity controlled, this hasn’t been recorded. But it could be. And like zoos trading animals or sending sperm to enact the studbooks’ recommendations, botanical gardens could share pollen and help breeding efforts maintain genetic diversity. Having a studbook guide breeding would also help prevent horticultural convenience (i.e., using more seed from the individual that produced the most flowers) from overriding best practices.

Read the full article

Our friends at Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day are deep into their Rooted in Goodness Spring Tour. They are hitting the road visiting community events, festivals, and even neighborhood stores to spread a little goodness across the U.S. You can join them on their tour and leave your mark to help plants grow. For every thumbprint pledge, Mrs. Meyer’s will donate $1 to the Center for Plant Conservation (up to $10,000).

You can follow them on Instagram to watch them spread their goodness!

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