Urban plants as genetic reservoirs or threats to the integrity of bushland plant populations
Remnant plants in urban fringes and native plants in gardens have the potential to contribute to the conservation of threatened plants by increasing genetic diversity, effective size of populations, and levels of genetic connectedness. But they also pose a threat through the disruption of locally adapted gene pools. At Hyams Beach, New South Wales, Australia, four bushland stands of the rare shrub, Grevillea macleayana McGillivray, surround an urban area containing remnant and cultivated specimens of this species. Numbers of inflorescences per plant, fruits per plant, and visits by pollinators were similar for plants in urban gardens and bushland. Urban plants represented a substantial but complex genetic resource, displaying more genetic diversity than bushland plants judged by He, numbers of alleles per locus, and number of private alleles. Of 27 private alleles in urban plants, 17 occurred in a set of 19 exotic plants. Excluding the exotic plants, all five stands displayed a moderate differentiation (FST = 0.14 + 0.02), although the urban remnants clustered with two of the bushland stands. These patterns may be explained by high levels of selfing and inbreeding in this species and by long-distance dispersal (several seeds in the urban stand were fathered by plants in other stands). Genetic leakage (gene flow) from exotic plants to 321 seeds on surrounding remnant or bushland plants has not occurred. Our results demonstrate the conservation value of this group of urban plants, which are viable, productive, genetically diverse, and interconnected with bushland plants. Gene flow has apparently not yet led to genetic contamination of bushland populations, but high levels of inbreeding would make this a rare event and difficult to detect. Remnant plants in urban gardens could successfully contribute to recovery plans for endangered and vulnerable species.