Ursidae: The Undergraduate Research Journal at the University of Northern Colorado

Faculty Sponsor

Mitchell McGlaughlin


Mining operations deposit high concentrations of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, and vanadium into the topsoil of an ecosystem. These toxic metals can affect plant health and behavior, causing local extinction and shifts in ecosystem dynamics. However, genetic analyses of some plants growing on toxic soil conditions indicate higher genetic diversity than would be expected in that environment. Determining the effects of soil pollution on plants is important to determine a species’ utility in conservation and restoration. This investigation compared the genetic diversity of western yarrow (Achillea millefolium, Asteraceae), growing near a mine with vanadium and arsenic contamination to plants existing up to two kilometers away in undisturbed habitat. Leaf tissue from yarrow (n = 88) was collected on and off the Butterfly-Burrell uranium mine northeast of Meeker, Colorado. Two microsatellite loci were scored for heterozygosity and allelic diversity, common measurements of a population’s genetic diversity. Genetic diversity has been shown to be correlated with the ability of organisms to adapt to selective pressures. While heterozygosity was highest at the mines, no significant difference was detected between mine and off-site populations. Plants did not exhibit a reduction of genetic variability on the mine, indicating an adaptation or tolerance to the contaminated soils. This response establishes yarrow as a strong candidate for restoration and revegetation use at amended mines in the Rocky Mountains.

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