Is genetics a requirement for restoration?

Image from Luc Viatour (www.Lucnix.be)

The fields of conservation and genetics have relied heavily on one another for quite a while now (they even made an aptly named journal together!). Using genetic information is now an accepted, and even expected, step in recognizing and protecting species at risk. However, less attention has been paid to the role of genetic information during ecological restoration, the applied steps of manipulating ecosystems to a more historical or resilient state.

Thus, the aim of this paper is to review how genetics has been utilised in restoration ecology to the present and to identify ways in which genetics could be better utilised to inform restoration ecology in the future.

Mijangos et al. cite multiple cases in which the ecological assumptions made based on a species’ life history don’t match up with their genetic signature (example: some clonal species defy expectations by having a combinations of low seed dispersal and high population genetic diversity). These examples provide compelling support for a combination of genetics, ecology, and ecosystem services when making all restoration decisions.

Genetics can facilitate the evaluation of a restoration project by, for example, quantifying gene flow or demographic changes in the targeted populations. The role of genetics is not only limited to indirectly evaluating population dynamics or ecosystem processes however, as genetics can directly influence the success of restoration projects.

The authors provide a comprehensive review of how basic population genetic inference (effective population sizes, migration rates, connectivity, etc.) can benefit restoration goals. While this shouldn’t be surprising, providing a useful document for both molecular ecologists and restoration practitioners to look over and see the benefit of collaboration is a valuable contribution for the future of this young field.

Mijangos J.L., Pacioni C., Spencer P.B.S. & Craig M.D. (2014). Contribution of genetics to ecological restoration., Molecular Ecology, DOI: 10.1111/mec.12995

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About Rob Denton

I’m a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. I’m most interested in understanding the evolutionary/ecological consequences of strange reproduction in salamanders (unisexual Ambystoma). Topics I’m likely to write about: population and landscape genetics, mitonuclear interactions, polyploidy, and reptiles/amphibians.

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