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Dec 13, 2007

The Ecology and Genetics of the Meadow thistle in the British Isles and Imp

The Ecology and Genetics of the Meadow thistle in the British Isles and Imp from SWEP Paignton Zoo Environmental Park

Showing that populations of this threatened plant are becoming genetically isolated

The ecology and genetics of the meadow thistle in the British Isles and implications for its conservation This research examined the ecology and genetics of the meadow thistle.

This plant is a key species of rhos pasture. Meadow thistle has decreased throughout its range and the rhos pasture habitat has become severely threatened. Research was required in order to provide information on how to manage and restore meadow thistle populations and rhos pasture.

An overview of meadow thistle ecology was produced in order to provide a summary for researchers, land managers and conservationists. Levels of genetic diversity within and between populations were examined, for meadow thistle populations throughout the British Isles. Relationships were found between levels of genetic diversity, population size, habitat quality and plant reproductive fitness. This highlighted the need to conserve or recreate large populations and also described the habitat requirements needed in order to maintain genetic diversity.

Populations of meadow thistle were found to be genetically isolated from each other. Experimental crosses were used to look at the effect of inbreeding and outbreeding and this revealed that meadow thistle can suffer from inbreeding depression and possibly also outbreeding depression.This means that if new populations are created they should be large to avoid inbreeding and seed should not be sourced from populations that are very different genetically as this may lead to outbreeding depression.

This research has provided valuable information on how to conserve meadow thistle and also extended our knowledge on the effect of habitat destruction and fragmentation on plant species.

Developed by:  SWEP Paignton Zoo Environmental Park

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