Using environmental and geographic data to optimize ex situ collections and preserve evolutionary potential

Lionel N. Di Santo, Jill A. Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Maintenance of biodiversity through seed banks and botanical gardens, where the wealth of species’ genetic variation may be preserved ex situ, is a major goal of conservation. However, challenges can persist in optimizing ex situ collections if trade-offs exist among cost, effort, and conserving species evolutionary potential, particularly when genetic data are not available. We evaluated the genetic consequences of population preservation informed by geographic (isolation by distance [IBD]) and environmental (isolation by environment [IBE]) distance for ex situ collections for which population provenance is available. We used 19 genetic and genomic data sets from 15 plant species to assess the proportion of population genetic differentiation explained by geographic and environmental factors and to simulate ex situ collections prioritizing source populations based on pairwise geographic distance, environmental distance, or both. Specifically, we tested the impact prioritizing sampling based on these distances may have on the capture of neutral, functional, or putatively adaptive genetic diversity and differentiation. Individually, IBD and IBE explained limited population genetic differences across all 3 genetic marker classes (IBD, 10–16%; IBE, 1–5.5%). Together, they explained a substantial proportion of population genetic differences for functional (45%) and adaptive (71%) variation. Simulated ex situ collections revealed that inclusion of IBD, IBE, or both increased allelic diversity and genetic differentiation captured among populations, particularly for loci that may be important for adaptation. Thus, prioritizing population collections based on environmental and geographic distance data can optimize genetic variation captured ex situ. For the vast majority of plant species for which there is no genetic information, these data are invaluable to conservation because they can guide preservation of genetic variation needed to maintain evolutionary potential within collections.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)733-744
Number of pages12
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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