Director of Conservation Genetics
Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development
• Conservation Genetics
• Quantitative Genetics
• Species-level molecular systematics
In vitro propagation of the federally endangered Polygala lewtonii. Edwards is an assistant scientist in MBG’s Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development and the director of CCSD’s conservation genetics lab; she has adjunct appointments at three local universities and works with many student researchers. Polygala lewtonii is a small, shortlived perennial herb that is endemic to five counties in central Florida. Its habitat has experienced widespread losses due to land conversion and many patches of remaining habitat have become degraded due to fire suppression, thereby causing severe population declines. Because of these declines, P. lewtonii was listed as federally endangered in 1999. Results of a recent genetic study indicated that genetic variation is structured at an extremely fine spatial scale, such that protecting many populations is necessary to fully conserve the genetic variation in P. lewtonii. Because it is not possible to protect all of the genetic diversity of the species in situ, ex situ conservation will be necessary to prevent the loss of genetic diversity due to development and habitat degradation. Currently, however, conservation seed banking is inefficient for P. lewtonii because previous seed germination experiments have exhibited very low germination rates (2–20 %). The goal of this project will be to develop alternative protocols for ex situ conservation of P. lewtonii, including developing an in vitro propagation protocol to provide material for ex situ conservation, cryopreservation or recovery. We will use methods for conducting in vitro propagation previously developed for closely related species and explore the effectiveness of protocols for propagating various types of tissues (including shoot cuttings, rhizomes, and seeds) and the optimal season for collecting these tissues.