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Investments in native forb research to promote pollinator health

Our national forests, shrublands and grasslands are composed of diverse assemblages of native forb species that support numerous pollinators. Disturbances, invasives and climate change threaten the diversity and abundance of native forbs, and therefore pollinators. Research and management partnerships, such as the Great Basin Native Plant Program, are developing the much-needed knowledge to utilize key native forbs in restoration in the Great Basin and surrounding regions. Native forb restoration requires ecological and genetic information to make the correct decisions for successful restoration outcomes. Some of the key unanswered questions that can be used to develop better decisions and management practices are:

  • How is genetic diversity within forb species structured across the landscape?
  • Is there cryptic species or polyploidy that could interfere with seed increase?
  • How are adaptive traits arrayed on the landscaped? 
  • How far can seed be moved and remain adapted?

These questions can be addressed by using a combination of DNA techniques and common garden studies. DNA techniques can assess relationships among populations to ensure management practices are implemented in ways that reflect the existing genetic diversity. These techniques can also test for polyploidy (genome doubling). Polyploidy is an important adaptive strategy among plants and is particularly common in forbs. The primary goal of common garden studies is to develop seed transfer guidelines, but these studies can also provide information about growing practices, seed collection techniques and other practical knowledge.