The population biology of mitigation: impacts of habitat creation on an endangered plant species
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- Halbur, M.M., Sloop, C.M., Zanis, M.J. et al. Conserv Genet (2014) 15: 679. doi:10.1007/s10592-014-0569-0
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Conservation practitioners widely agree that optimal conservation strategies will maximize the amount of genetic variation preserved in target taxa, but there is ongoing debate about how that variation should be distributed through restoration and mitigation activities. Here, we evaluate the impacts of ~10 years of mitigation on the population genetic structure of Limnanthes vinculans, a state- and federally-listed endangered plant species restricted to ephemeral vernal pool wetlands in the Santa Rosa Plain of California. Using microsatellite loci to estimate patterns of neutral molecular variation, we found that created pools support similar levels of variation in L. vinculans as natural pools. Habitat creation and seed translocation have not disrupted the largest-scale patterns of population structure across the species range, but a concentration of mitigation activity towards the range center has reduced the extent of isolation-by-distance operating in this region and shifted the location of at least one genetic boundary. Patterns of genetic variation among populations in remnant vernal pools reveal that gene flow has historically occurred beyond the scale of individual pools at the center of the species range, while small genetic populations have differentiated around the range margins. On average, L. vinculans in created pools exhibit less cover and more restricted local distributions than those in remnant pools, but these patterns were driven by two particularly productive natural sites rather than consistent differences between natural and created sites. We conclude that mitigation activities have changed the historical patterns of gene flow within the species range to a moderate degree, that these changes will likely impact remnant pools through gene flow, and that current created sites provide less heterogeneous habitat for L. vinculans than do natural pools. Studies that track individual plants will be needed to determine if the changes in gene flow due to mitigation will have positive or negative impacts on the demographic and microevolutionary trajectories of L. vinculans. More generally, this study provides a retrospective analysis of the outcome of managing an endangered plant species through intensive mitigation, and yields several insights to inform future conservation strategies.