Developing Genetic Tools to Safeguard Harvested Species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Dr. Matt Estep, Appalachian State University Jennifer Rhode Ward, University of North Carolina at Asheville

Many plant species are being driven towards rarity due to exploitation for food, medicine, or the nursery trade. Land managers in the Smoky Mountain National Park are particularly concerned about two plant species: cutleaf coneflower / Sochan (Rudbeckia laciniata), and ramps (Allium tricoccum). Both of these species are traditionally foraged for food and ceremonial use by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and parklands will soon open to limited collection by EBCI members. To ensure the health and vitality of these species, a combination of demographic and genetic data are being collected. These will be used to assess baseline genetic diversity and prioritize populations for conservation. Developing novel molecular tools for monitor imperiled plant species is one avenue towards safeguarding their futures, as these tools can be used to identify problematic reductions in genetic diversity over time.