Tens of thousands of plant species, including many that produce useful natural products, have undergone significant population reductions from human activities such as deforestation and agricultural expansion. Many species now exist in only small, fragmented populations which will undergo rapid loss of genetic diversity through reduced gene flow, inbreeding and genetic drift. Knowledge of the distribution and genetic structure of these plant species can serve as the basis for management programs aimed at conserving their remaining habitat and biodiversity. This presentation will draw on the example of a tree from the tropical Andes that has suffered greatly for hundreds of years at the hands of humans but can still be saved with proper genetics-based management.

Species in the genus Cinchona were among the first plants in the New World to suffer from overexploitation after Spanish colonization. The harvesting of over one million trees for their quinine-containing bark began in the early 17th century and continued until the development of synthetic anti-malarial drugs more than 300 years later. Today, Cinchona species exist in remnant populations in the cloud forests of the tropical Andes. One species, C. officinalis, is endemic to the Loja Province of southern Ecuador and exists only in fragmented populations, the smaller of which are on the verge of extinction due to continuing deforestation. Recent collecting expeditions to these populations will be described, and preliminary data from the subsequent microsatellite and chloroplast DNA analyses will be presented. Evidence will be provided for the division of C. officinalis into two management units based on evolutionary histories and possible ecotypes. The need for landholder and community involvement in these conservation efforts will be stressed.

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