Seed production areas are crucial to conservation outcomes: benefits and risks of an emerging restoration tool

Jack Zinnen, Linda M. Broadhurst, Paul Gibson-Roy, Thomas A. Jones, Jeffrey W. Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Seed production areas (SPAs) are critical infrastructure for ecological restoration, particularly in fragmented landscapes where wildland seed crops are unavailable or wildland harvest is unsustainable. SPAs are useful for a wide range of species that are amenable to cultivation. Despite increasing research on SPAs, their value for biodiversity conservation has yet to be comprehensively described. Here, we highlight the key benefits of SPAs to biodiversity conservation. First, SPAs allow restoration to be conducted on a much greater scale than could be accomplished with wildland-harvested seed, thus protecting key biodiversity assets from harvest pressures. Second, the native seed production industry adds to the base of stakeholders who are invested in restoring and enhancing biodiversity. Third, SPAs provide novel opportunities for research and public exposure to native biodiversity. We also describe how cultivation can alter plant fitness compared to wildland plants, which acts as a multiplier to their conservation implications. SPAs could lead to two interrelated negative consequences that generate risks for taxonomic and genetic diversity at multiple scales: (1) SPAs can cause and multiply negative genetic legacies as a result of cultivation practices, and (2) SPA progenies can numerically and genetically dominate wildland plant populations. Nevertheless, SPA cultivation offers an opportunity to genetically diversify SPA-derived populations for success in restoration and enlarge the pool of species available for restoration, thus mitigating or solving some of these risks. Targeted government policies toward SPAs, additional research, and sound SPA management are necessary to minimize genetic risks and taxonomic redundancy, and also to maximize the conservation benefits of SPAs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1233-1256
Number of pages24
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Ecological restoration
  • Ex situ conservation
  • Human-vectored dispersal
  • Native plant materials
  • Plant materials
  • Seed orchard
  • Workhorse species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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