Conservation Genetics: Research


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

 Learn more about our projects

Diospyros Project (Alex Linan, Christy Edwards)

The project focuses on conservation genetics of currently described species Diospyros endemic to Madagascar. With next-generation sequencing phylogenetic and systematic relationships will be investigated. This work will not only help to understand the extraordinary diversity of the genus on Madagascar, but by naming and describing species, it will help to protect against and properly control illegal logging in this group of trees possessing sought after heartwood.

Project (Christy Edwards, Burgund Bassuner, Joel Swift)

Our research activities contributed to the rediscovery of a thought to be extinct in the wild species Dracaena umbraculifera. Several populations of this species were found on the mainland and a small island east of Madagascar. Two publications are planned and will be turned in soon.

Zyziphus P
roject (Christy Edwards, Burgund Bassuner, Kaitlin Foye, REU student 2016)

In collaboration with the Archibald Biological Station we conduct parental analysis of the critically endangered Ziziphus celata. A few individuals of the species were rediscovered in 1987. Our results help the conservationists to structure reintroductions of this self-incompatible species.

Cinchona Project (Christy Edwards, Burgund Bassuner, Joel Swift)

Leaf samples from Cinchona pubescens, collected on Galapagos and mainland South America are analyzed to understand and compare levels of genetic diversity and patterns of genetic structure. The results will give us an understanding if the genetic diversity of C. pubescens on Galapagos is lower than in its native range, the source and the number of colonization and the understanding whether the populations in Galapagos have evolved genetically since the introduction 70 years ago.

Conservation Genetics