Conservation Genetics

The conservation genetics program at the Missouri Botanical Garden, part of the Garden's Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, uses genetic approaches to understand the evolutionary and ecological causes and consequences of rarity in endangered plant species. Research conducted by the program combines the fields of plant systematics, phylogeography, population genetics, ecological/quantitative genetics, and genomics to understand evolutionary and ecological dynamics of rare plant species.

The program is housed in the Garden’s new Plant Conservation Genetics Laboratory, a 1,000-square-foot facility that is equipped to carry out DNA and RNA extraction; gel electrophoresis and imaging; polymerase chain reaction (PCR); sample preparation for genotyping, conventional DNA sequencing, next-generation DNA sequencing and RNA-seq; cloning; bioinformatics of genetic data; and data analysis. The lab’s primary research focus is plant conservation genetics, but the facility and research staff have the ability to support projects on plant systematics, phylogeography, quantitative and ecological genetics, genomics, plant-animal interactions, and gene expression.

The conservation genetics program focuses on rare, reintroduced, and restored plant populations and addresses four areas of investigation:
1) Elucidating patterns of evolutionary history and phylogeography in closely related species complexes containing endangered species
2) Understanding the relationships between geographic range size and levels of genetic diversity in lineages with rare and widespread plant species
3) Understanding the potential for adaptive evolution, the genetic architecture of phenotypic traits, and how these are affected by environmental stress/variation in plant populations
4) Using genetic data to help understand the ecology and reproductive biology of endangered plants to aid in applied conservation and restoration efforts

Current projects in the lab include:
• Genotyping to understand the number of individuals in extinct-in-the-wild or critically endangered plant species
• Parentage analysis of genetic data to structure reintroductions of a self-incompatible, critically endangered species
• Comparisons of genetic diversity in rare and widespread congeners to understand whether small population size is negatively affecting the levels of genetic diversity in rare species
• Use of next-generation DNA sequence data to understand whether a taxonomically questionable, federally endangered species is genetically distinct from closely related species and deserving of federal protection
• Use of genetic data to understand information about the ecology and life history of endangered plants
• Use of DNA metabarcoding to understand the interactions between plants and nectar-feeding bats

Lab members:
Christine Edwards, PhD, Assistant Scientist for Conservation Genetics, Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development