April 2011. A first Twinflower transplant trial for the Park was set up at a site on Deeside this month marking an important step in a new investigation into the use of translocation as a tool to aid the recovery of Twinflower in Scotland, a key aim of this project.
Seed production is chronically low in many Scottish Twinflower populations. This is cause for great concern as, without seed, the long-term prospects for recovery and spread of Twinflower in Scotland are severely limited.
Twinflower has a predominantly self-incompatible breeding system (meaning that it is almost, but not completely, self-sterile) so for high levels of seed production to occur, cross-pollination with a genetically different (sexually compatible) clone is required. Many of the remaining Twinflower patches in Scotland consist of single clones and they are often too far apart from one other for cross-pollination by insect pollinators to occur and hence seed production is frequently very low.
Recent research has shown that experimental cross-pollination between neighbouring isolated Twinflower patches can restore seed production to them. With little prospect of these isolated Twinflower patches ever meeting each other via vegetative spread, intervention is clearly required to overcome this problem. Translocation is a potential solution, bringing compatible clones into contact with each other so that cross-pollination and seed production can take place.
This project aims to investigate the potential to establish viable Twinflower populations, capable of both vegetative and sexual spread, in suitable habitat areas within the Cairngorms National Park. Two approaches will be tested: (i) the creation of new populations consisting of a number of different clones, and (ii) augmentation of existing patches with additional compatible clones.
A park-wide survey of Twinflower genetics funded by this project, and conducted by Forest Research, is currently underway. This survey will establish the genetic diversity of patches in the Park and will help to inform the selection of source material for the translocations, ensuring that the mixing of any distinct genetic groups within the Scottish population is avoided.
Five clones are to be planted into the new site on Deeside. Each clone will be established independently but planted in close enough proximity to the others to permit cross-pollination. Two clones will be planted at the site this year, using material propagated from cuttings from two nearby patches. Three additional clones will be added the following year once the genetic survey is complete and source material has been selected and propagated. Translocated plants will be monitored each year to measure their survival, growth, flowering and seed production.