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Sourcing native plants to support ecosystem function in different planting contexts

Kramer, Andrea T., Crane, Barbara, Downing, Jeff, Hamrick, J.L., Havens, Kayri, Highland, Amy, Jacobi, Sarah K., Kaye, Thomas N., Lonsdorf, Eric V., Ramp Neale, Jennifer, Novy, Ari, Smouse, Peter E., Tallamy, Douglas W., White, Abigail, Zeldin, Jacob
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.3 pp. 470-476
cultivars, decision support systems, ecological function, ecological restoration, expert opinion, forbs, genetic variation, indigenous species, leaves, plant breeders, planting, pollinators, risk, wild plants, wildlife
Current guidance on sourcing native plants to support ecosystem function focuses on the high risk of failure when unsuitable material is used in ecological restoration. However, there is growing recognition that risks may be lower and rewards higher at highly disturbed sites isolated from remnant populations, especially when considering support for pollinators, wildlife, and other ecosystem functions. We developed the first decision support tool using expert opinion to assess suitability of different native plant sources, including horticultural cultivars, in two different planting contexts. We assessed the suitability of 761 sources for 72 commonly sold native species in two different planting contexts (small, isolated, highly disturbed sites vs. large, undisturbed sites near remnant populations). Information on genetic and adaptive backgrounds of sources was strikingly lacking, forcing us to exclude one‐third of sources from our assessment. While only 3% of cultivars received high suitability scores for use in large, undisturbed sites near remnant populations, 52% received high suitability scores in small, isolated, highly disturbed sites. However, nearly 25% of cultivars had floral or leaf traits that differed from wild plants in ways that may compromise their ability to support pollinators and other wildlife. Forbs and cultivars lacking genetic diversity and source information were most likely to have altered traits. We recommend that native plant breeders and sellers work together to ensure ecosystem function, adaptation, and diversity information is available to consumers, that consumers request this information to drive demand, and that researchers further investigate how context influences risks and benefits of different sources.