Sharing seeds of rare plants
Sat, 15 Nov 2014 10:11:25 PST
Summary of the Argument:

It is argued that unfettered propagation, distribution, and any possible 
concomitant genetic contamination of otherwise isolated endangered plant 
populations are in the best interests of endangered plants. I argue that 
these are assertions that we cannot take as true merely on the basis of 
personal authority and that these assertions need to be proven by way of 
specific examples, scientifically-proven facts, and scholarly research.

> I have had more dealings with the self-appointed controllers of rare 
> plants than I'd like to remember.
This is confusing. If these authorities are self-appointed, how is it 
that they have any power to affect you? Why do you even "deal" with 
them? Why not ignore them?

> I find their arguments devoid of any logic . . .
Because you don't state what those arguments are, it is not possible for 
anyone  to determine if the arguments are indeed devoid of logic. And 
I'm not simply going to take your word that unspecified arguments, whose 
contents are unknown to me, are devoid of logic.

> . . . and [I] find their arrogance disappointing
You have put up a lengthy compilation of emails on your Plant Delights 
web site from people who describe you in the most unflattering terms and 
who are deeply disappointed with you 
( So I imagine you 
don't expect us to take your description of the arrogance of others, and 
your subsequent disappointment, seriously. When others say pretty much 
the same about you, you treat it as a "rant." Are you now the one who is 

> First, if anyone believes that climate changes, then the least 
> effective method of conserving a rare plant would be in situ 
> conservation. Propagation and widespread distribution is far more 
> logical. While in situ conservation makes us feel good and may be fine 
> in the short term, it really isn't a good long term conservation strategy.
Because you provide no references for any of these assertions, I assume 
that we are supposed to accept them on the basis of your personal, 
expert knowledge or first hand experience. However, I am unable to find 
any evidence that you have expert knowledge in, or experience with, 
conservation biology. Your biography in Wikipedia provides no 
information regarding education and states only that you are an expert 
horticulturist and a plant breeder. But it doesn't say you are a 
conservation biologist. In any case, you ignore (or perhaps are ignorant 
of) many issues in conservation biology. For example, in situ 
conservation can protect an entire habitat as well as numerous other 
organisms associated with an endangered taxon. So it would be helpful 
for you to explain why your option, of unfettered propagation and 
distribution, is preferable to conserving an endangered taxon in situ, 
in the habitat in which it evolved and inside the evolutionary envelope 
containing all the other organisms with which the taxon co-evolved.

> Correct me if I'm wrong, but few plants would exist today without 
> genetic exchange between populations, since as we all know, genetic 
> bottlenecks usually lead to long term population decline and 
> reductions in adaptability.
We do not "all know" that what you assert is true. As I am not 
knowledgeable in population biology or genetics, I do not know that 
genetic bottlenecks "usually" lead to long-term population decline and 
reductions in adaptability. That is an assertion that you need to prove.

Whatever the case regarding bottlenecks, I do know that plants that 
produce genetically identical copies of themselves and that rarely 
engage in sexual reproduction, are often *not* in decline and often show 
* no* reduction in adaptability. Some plant genera consist of both 
predominantly sexually reproducing species and apomictic microspecies 
(stable, genetically uniform, predominantly non-sexually reproducing 
populations recognized as species by some botanists and recognized as 
microspecies by other botanists). In the Northern Hemisphere, the 
genetically uniform microspecies have *larger* ranges than sexually 
reproducing species in the same genus. Thus, contradicting any 
assertions that genetically uniform plants that do not engage in genetic 
exchange are less vigorous or "in decline" with respect to sexually 
reproducing congeneric species. This phenomenon is known as 
"geographical parthenogenesis" (see, e.g., Hörandl et al. 2008. 
Understanding the geographic distributions of apomictic plants: a case 
for a pluralistic approach. Plant Ecology and Diversity 1(2): 309–320). 
That same work also states, "Selfing is a frequent phenomenon in plants, 
and well known as a predominant mode of reproduction of colonisers, such 
as annual pioneer plants, invasive plants and island endemics." As a 
plant breeder, I am sure you know that selfing may recombine a plant's 
genetic material but it introduces no new genetic material and it most 
definitely does not involve "genetic exchange between populations." 
Perhaps you might care to explain why selfing is the "predominant mode 
of reproduction of colonisers." Or do you contend that colonizing plants 
are in "long term population decline" and susceptible to "reductions in 

> The US has been glaciated 17 times, during which plants were moved all 
> around the continent.
I am unaware of any biogeographer who would describe such movement as 
"all around the continent." Also, glaciations sometimes led to plants 
being restricted to small, isolated areas (so called glacial refugia) 
and some plants, such as the relictual species now found in Florida's 
panhandle, never left such refugia. By forcing plants into refugia, 
glaciations may perhaps have *constrained* plant movement as much as 
they facilitated plant movement. But, of course, that is merely a 
personal observation. I am not a geologist or a biogeographer.

> It is this constant movement that keeps populations reinvigorated . . .
You provide no evidence for the assertion that "constant movement" 
invigorates plant populations.

> . . . as opposed to the isolation that exists now as natural 
> distributions have been interrupted by humans.
So you consider it a problem when the natural distribution of a plant is 
interrupted by an invasive plant?

> Also, would it not be worse on a natural population of Echinacea 
> laevigata if a homeowner planted the commonly sold Echinacea purpurea 
> near the preserve since echinaceas are notorious cross breeders?
I am not sure what's your point. To state that "things could be worse" 
is a cliche irrelevant to the topic at hand.

> Even this, according to Dr. Rob Griesbach of the USDA would be a good 
> idea, since according to him, the most efficient way to preserve to 
> genetics is to create hybrids since these store all of the genetics 
> from several parents in a single offspring.
So the most efficient way to preserve the genomes of wolves and coyotes 
is to breed the two together? That's the *most efficient* way? And how 
do you get a wolf or coyote back from the wolyote or coyolf you just 
created? Do you selectively breed for the most wolf-appearing or 
coyote-appearing progeny  for 15, 30, or whatever number of generations? 
Wouldn't it have been more efficient to simply have bred the wolf with 
another wolf and the coyote with another coyote? Is this the system you 
use at Juniper Level Botanic Gardens to preserve the genomes of two 
different congeneric species? Do you breed them together into one handy 
hybrid that takes up half the space of its two parents? If not, why not? 
After all, Dr. Griesbach, or so you claim, says it's "the most efficient 
way to preserve [the] genetics."

> The entire notion of preserving rare plant genetics is actually a 
> modus operandi to preserve the flow of grant money to fund people with 
> this myopic view of nature.
So the arguments for the preservation of local indigenous biodiversity 
are merely a ploy or collusion by scientists, peer review boards, and 
funding agencies that has been perpetrated with the sole purpose of 
getting grant monies into the hands of a few people with an 
excruciatingly specific myopic view of nature? Is there any evidence for 
this conspiracy theory?

> Most plants are rare because they are poorly adaptable..often existing 
> in a very specialized, limited size ecosystem. It seems to me that 
> these plants were destined by nature to go extinct, if you consider 
> historical climate change part of nature.
Destiny? You are using a mental abstraction as the basis for your 
assertions? And are you now promoting the concept of nature as an 
anthropomorphized teleological force to explain plant extinction? It's 
odd that you go with destiny and a personalized pseudo-deified version 
of nature as the possible causes of extinction in rare plants . . . but 
you don't mention habitat destruction, plant collectors, pollution, and 
invasive animal and plant pests.

> Finally, if the plant is not going to be used by humans, what is the 
> point of preservation, if you limit human access and use? In my world, 
> any use that has an economic benefit would be desirable, since this is 
> the basis of our human society.
According to your statement above, concepts regarding endangered plant 
genetics (and thus endangered plants) serve to funnel grant money to 
people with a specific myopic view of nature. And grant money provides 
direct and indirect economic benefits. So, is this economic benefit 
desirable? You do argue that "any use that has an economic benefit would 
be desirable."

> Our current system is sadly broken . . . both plants and humans will 
> suffer.
The above are examples of two logical fallacies: appeal to emotion (this 
is sad) and appeal to negative consequences (this will cause human 
suffering). But even if the arguments by plant conservationists 
regarding genetic contamination do result in sadness or suffering, that 
does not mean that the arguments are false. And it does not then mean 
that your assertions are true. You need to prove that your assertions 
are true using specific examples, scientifically proven facts, and 
scholarly research. Appeals to emotion and appeals to negative 
consequences indicate only that you do not have facts and science to 
back-up your assertions.

> . . . until there is a major backlash against the academic elite of 
> the world . . .
There will be no "major backlash" because the "problem" that you are 
describing affects a vanishingly small number of people. So outside of 
this very tiny group, the vast majority of people are not concerned that 
endangered plants cannot be as freely exploited as you desire.

Finally, I find this statement somewhat disturbing in its 
grandiose-paranoid-delusional wording. You call for a *major* backlash. 
And this "backlash" must be worldwide in scope. And the "backlash" is 
not to be directed at any one specific target with the power to amend 
the Endangered Species Act. Instead, it is to be directed against the 
entirety of the "academic elite" throughout the entire world. The 
wording is scary because aren't major backlashes against wide segments 
of the "academic elite" usually associated with oppressive regimes?

If I were in your position, I would advocate for an amendment to the 
legal statute that encumbers the propagation and distribution of 
endangered plants. Perhaps I would begin by writing to my elected 
representatives. A "major backlash against the academic elite of the 
world" would be pretty far down on my list of things to advocate for in 
order  to change the Endangered Species Act. But, apparently, it's at 
the top of your list.

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