Amy Waananen

Research Q & A

What’s your hometown?

Maple Grove, Minnesota

What are you currently working on?

I am working on a study to understand how pollinators connect isolated plant populations in fragmented environments by transporting pollen across landscapes.

How are you working toward that goal?

To understand pollinator-mediated habitat connectivity, I am tracking pollen movement using genetic paternity analysis methods. I found all individuals of my focal plant species, the narrow-leaved purple coneflower, within a one-mile-square area in western Minnesota and collected seeds from a sample of individuals. I am determining the pollen source for each seed based on the match between the genetic “fingerprints” of the seed and the potential pollen donors. Using this method, I am revealing patterns of how pollen moves within and among fragmented plant populations.

Why are you focusing your work in that area?

Habitat connectivity is critical for populations to maintain a healthy level of genetic diversity, which prevents inbreeding depression and provides the variation necessary for populations to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Promoting habitat connectivity is a major goal in many conservation plans, but little is known about movement patterns of organisms that are small and hard to track, like insects and plants. This research will inform conservation planning by clarifying the scale and some of the drivers of plant population connectivity.

Where are you working on research/field work?

Near Kensington, Minnesota—a rural area in western Minnesota that is on the edge of the Alexandria Glacial Moraine.

What will your next steps/research be?

I am currently working on the genetic paternity analysis of the seeds. Next, I want to understand the consequences of pollen movement over different distances. Does pollen movement over greater distances lead to greater offspring fitness? Given current patterns of pollen movement, how severe is inbreeding depression? These questions will address the mechanisms of how connectivity could improve resilience to habitat fragmentation.

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