Conserving Genetic Diversity in Seed Collections

Joe Davitt, Institute for Conservation Research, San Diego Zoo Global

Maintaining a plant species’ genetic diversity can contribute to adaptive potential, prevent inbreeding effects, and potentially preserve traits such as drought tolerance and disease resistance, all of which are critical in a changing climate. Seed collections are often the best method of conserving the genetic diversity of rare plant populations ex-situ, however most seed collections are made with no available genetic data from the target species. Ideally, this genetic data would give us a clear picture of which populations are the most critical to conserve and how genetically structured a species’ populations are in relationship to one another, but this can be a time consuming and costly process. Seed collection protocols, such as those published by the Center for Plant Conservation, can inform our general best practices, but as seed collectors we must also infer best practice on a species by species basis. The life history and reproductive biology of the target species, as well as our sampling methods can greatly impact the effectiveness of seed collections to capture the entire target populations’ genetic diversity. Taking all available information about a species into consideration, we can infer the best seed collection methods to ensure genetic conservation.