Rarity and conservation of Melampyrum sylvaticum
Melampyrum sylvaticum (small cow-wheat) is a hemiparasitic annual of boreal-montane regions of Europe. The Species Action Plan recommended that in addition to protecting extant populations, by 2010 there should be an additional five populations that have been created with the aim of enhancing greater genetic diversity of the species. Consequently this project was set up in order to provide the ecological knowledge required to meet such targets. There are various management options available to conservationists looking to prevent Melampyrum sylvaticum’s extinction from the UK but from the results of this project it is clear that some methods have drawbacks that should preclude their use. Population augmentation with seeds from other populations is not advised due to the risk of genetic ‘swamping’ or outbreeding depression. Seed amplification would avoid these problems but may introduce different complications by artificially promoting certain genotypes within a population. Population expansion by mimicking ant dispersal is recommended as a way of minimizing density dependent mortality in larger populations but is not suitable in smaller populations. Seed translocation to unoccupied sites is therefore, the best option but the exact details of seed-sourcing and sowing should be guided by the results of the Species Recovery Project in order to avoid predicted limitations. The long-term outlook for M. sylvaticum will depend entirely on whether populations can be created that operate as part of a functioning ecosystem (including pollinating and seed-dispersing insects) with enough demographic and genetic stability to survive predicted climate change.