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Kettenring Wetland Ecology Lab

What role does genetic diversity play in restoring the structure and function of wetlands?

Overview

The importance of plant genetic diversity to ecosystem functions has been well-documented in the ecological and evolutionary literature. But few studies have looked at the implications of these "community and ecosystem genetics" studies to ecological restoration. To that end, we have a handful of different research projects that are addressing this research area.

Intraspecific variation in the foundational wetland species alkali bulrush (Schoenoplectus maritimus) and the importance of intraspecific variation of alkali bulrush to ecosystem functions in wetland restorations

A recent graduate from the lab, Amanda Sweetman, in collaboration with Karin and Dr. Karen Mock, set out to evaluate the pattern and structure of genetic diversity in alkali bulrush, one of the most important species for migratory bird species in our region. Her findings were published recently in Aquatic Botany. Soon-to-be published work took these findings one step further, where Amanda looked at the importance of alkali bulrush seed source and seed source diversity to seedling establishment and biomass production under different hydrologic regimes.

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(1) Closeup of an alkali bulrush patch; (2) monotypic stand of alkali bulrush at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

Integrating recent advances in genetic diversity - ecosystem function (GDEF) research to improve ecological restoration

Karin and her collaborators Dr. Carrie Reinhardt Adams, Dr. Kristin Mercer, and Dr. Jes Hines, have been evaluating how this important body of research on GDEF can inform restoration. We are currently writing a synthesis paper that evaluates the methodology of these experiments and how slight modifications in experimental methods could improve the application of this research to restoration. Furthermore, we are evaluating the different scenarios for when commonly used plant materials selection approaches (locally adapted materials, cultivars) might be appropriate compared with a GDEF-based approach (using genetically diverse plant materials) to develop a framework for plant materials selection.