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ABSTRACT: Knowledge of the genetic and demographic consequences of rarity is crucial when evaluating the effects of habitat loss and fragmentation on population viability, and for creating management plans in rare plant species. Reduction in population size and in the number of populations can lead to decreased genetic diversity and increased inbreeding. Genetic diversity is often correlated with fitness and is frequently used to identify populations of greatest conservation concern, or those that may be good candidates for ex situ conservation programs. However, an association between these factors is not always clear, and crossing studies evaluating whether there is phenotypic differentiation among populations in fitness related traits can inform managers of suffering populations or good sources for ex situ materials. Crossing studies can also evaluate the potential for genetic rescue to boost fitness in suffering populations. To address these questions, we conducted two generations of controlled crosses between populations of the extremely rare and fragmented sunflower, Helianthus verticillatus. We measured achene viability, germination, survival, and pollen viability (F1 only) in 176 F1 and 159 F2 families. The populations were differentiated with respect to phenotypic fitness measures with one population having significantly lower achene viability and germination. Also, the potential for genetic rescue was observed as gene flow into the less fit population resulted in higher fitness measures in both the F1 and F2. Results are discussed with respect to the importance of combining genetic marker data with crosses and the implications for conservation in disjunct populations of rare species.

Biological Conservation, 142(8): PP. 1836-1843
Category: Genetic diversity
Authors: Ellis, R. & McCauley D.E.
Publication Year: 2009

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