All in the family – the case for collecting by maternal lines

Conservation seed collections support species’ survival by acting as an insurance policy in the face of extinction. They can also provide resources for research, restoration and reintroduction. A high-quality conservation seed collection has both depth and breadth – capturing genetic diversity within and geographic diversity among populations. Collecting and storing seeds by maternal line (i.e., seeds from a single individual plant represent one maternal line) provides depth to conservation collections. Previous research has suggested that collecting from 50 maternal lines throughout the geographic extent of a given population increases the odds of capturing the majority of the genetic diversity within that population. Capturing the maximum amount of genetic diversity possible from each population increases the integrity of a conservation collection. Further, keeping maternal lines separate ensures that each line can be equally represented in restoration and reintroduction efforts. Separating seeds by maternal line also creates opportunities for future research, especially when questions center on genetic differences within and between populations. When bulk collections are made, there is only a small chance that each maternal line will be represented when a subsample of the collection is removed for use and valuable information is lost. Although collecting by maternal lines makes seed collection and cleaning more complicated, the amount of information that is retained increases the value of the collection and makes the effort worthwhile.

Heather Schneider, Santa Barbara Botanic Garden