Taraxacum koksaghyz – vulnerability and conservation

Taraxacum koksaghyz (TKS) represents an economic plant, an alternative rubber producer, with a potential of world importance. Because it is confined to a small geographical range in Kazakhstan, and there are factors with negative impact on TKS, and trends that may influence TKS in future, a conservation is needed. TKS is restricted to an area in valleys of Kegen River, Saryzhaz River, Tekes River and Tuzkol Lake. As regards its habitats, TKS avoids sandy or marshy habitats in the valleys. It is an ecotonal plant thriving between the marshes and dry elevations, mostly associated with loose stands of Achnatherum splendens ("chia") or with meadows near springs dominated by Juncus salsuginosus or J. gerardii. TKS is a sexually reproducing diploid with sporophytic incompatibility and, therefore, obligate outcrossing requiring cross-pollination. Each of its large populations comprises the absolute majority of species’ genetic variation. TKS currently exists at more than 30 localities, with only three macrolocalities really rich in TKS plants (Kegen, Saryzhaz and Tuzkol Lake). The condition of the localities is relatively satisfactory, and no emergency measures are needed. The currently existing threats that may influence the performance of TKS primarily include the rainwater and spring water deficit, after a relatively long period of drought. Another threat is represented by gradually intesified sheep grazing leading to the soil degradation and erosion. As regards the expected trends in future, they include the agriculture intensification, cropland expansion and new irrigation plans. If applied to the TKS region, each of these plans would directly or indirectly threaten the TKS localities. Also the continuing climatic change might reach a critical limit in this area in future. The measures recommended include, primarily, a formal landscape protection (as a Protected Landscape Area) with some activities blocked at and near the TKS localities, with management of TKS sites limited to a sparse horse grazing. The conservation plan should be launched at national and regional government levels, and all the local stakeholders should be involved or at least contacted. Continuing research based on the monitoring of water, climate and TKS population dynamics is an integral part of the conservation plan.

Possible gene flow routes between sexual diploid TKS and triploid obligate apomictic T.officinale s.lat. (TO).

Taraxacum koksaghyz (upper picture) and T. brevicorniculatum (lower picture). The latter is a stabilized hybridogenous triploid apomictic species growing close to or even at the T. koksaghyz habitats; it is a proof of the occasional existence of gene flow with T. koksaghyz involved in the past, because two of its three genomes belong to T. koksaghyz.