Conservation Genetics

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 679–695 | Cite as

The population biology of mitigation: impacts of habitat creation on an endangered plant species

  • Michelle M. Halbur
  • Christina M. Sloop
  • Michael J. Zanis
  • Nancy C. EmeryEmail author
Research Article


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.


Conservation genetics Mitigation Spatial structure Population genetic structure Endangered species Vernal pools Limnanthes vinculans 



The authors gratefully acknowledge the many private and public landowners that generously provided site access, including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the Earl Baume Center for the Blind, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the City of Santa Rosa. All endangered plant sampling was conducted in compliance with permit #2081(a)-09-03-RP from the CDFW. K. Brady, H. Brown, W. Egan, D. Halbur, L. Halbur, H. Keeble, K. Lilla, S. Magnioli, T. Michaels, M. Olson, and B. Roberts provided assistance with fieldwork; N. Goldsmith assisted with producing maps for CDFW; B. Hecht, M. Levy, P. Morton, K. Nichols, L. Torres Martinez, R. Tucker, J. Walker, S. Walker, and R. Wuersig helped with the genetic analysis; K. Nichols provided access to the ABI 3130xl. This research was financially supported by the California Native Plant Society, Purdue University Graduate School, and the Purdue University Departments of Botany & Plant Pathology and Biological Sciences.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 57 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michelle M. Halbur
    • 1
  • Christina M. Sloop
    • 2
  • Michael J. Zanis
    • 3
  • Nancy C. Emery
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of Botany and Plant PathologyPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.San Francisco Bay Joint VentureFairfaxUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologySeattle UniversitySeattleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesPurdue UniversityWest LafayetteUSA

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