Sara Souther

Post-doctoral Research Associate, David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow

Conservation of biodiversity, climate change biology, rare plant ecology, ecological genetics

UW-Department of Botany
430 Lincoln Drive 
Madison, WI 53706
(608) 265-2191

sklsouther @


  • Ph.D. Department of Biology, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV. 2011.

  • B.S. West Virginia University, Biology. 2003

  • B.A. West Virginia University, Sociology and Anthropology. 2003.

Research Interests

I am interested in how the genetic background of native plant populations affects demographic and evolutionary response to anthropogenic change, with the ultimate goal of using this information to inform conservation strategies that successfully preserve biodiversity in a changing world.

Postdoctoral Research

Climate change is occurring rapidly, and warming is expected to continue even if measures are enacted to curb carbon emissions. The unprecedented pace of contemporary climate change, in conjunction with highly fragmented landscapes, may render many species unable to respond spatially and genetically to climate change. For those species threatened with extinction, whether due to narrow range breadth or adaptations to local climatic conditions, persistence may be contingent on human assistance. Managed relocation is a proposed method to transport species, populations, or propagules to higher latitudes or elevations to track the climatic conditions to which they are adapted.

While managed relocation is a frequently cited conservation measure for preserving biodiversity as global temperatures rise, few tests of managed relocation have been conducted, and relatively little is known about the efficacy and replicability of this technique. Scientific evaluation of managed relocation must occur quickly, or we may face additional extinctions due to poorly executed relocations. For my current research, I am performing managed relocation of American ginseng plants, seeds, and pollen to examine two fundamental questions: 1) Does genetic specialization of populations affect the success of managed relocation? 2) Does genetic mixing between individuals introduced by managed relocation and individuals of extant populations affect the fitness of subsequent generations?

Publications and Posters

McGraw, James B., Anne E. Lubbers, Martha Van der Voort, Emily H. Mooney, Mary Ann Furedi, Sara Souther, Jessica Turner, and Jennifer Chandler.  2013.  Ecology and conservation of American ginseng in a changing world.  Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1286: 62-91. doi:10.1111/nyas.12032

Souther, Sara, Lechowicz, Martin, and James B. McGraw.  2012. Experimental test for adaptive differentiation of ginseng populations reveals complex response to temperature. Annals of Botany 110(4): 829-37. doi: 10.1093/aob/mcs155 

Souther, S. and J. B. McGraw. Range-wide signals of local adaptation to temperature in American ginseng suggest widespread negative consequences of climate change. In revision Conservation Biology.

Souther, S and J. B. McGraw. 2010. Vulnerability of American ginseng to an extreme early spring temperature fluctuation. Population Ecology 53(1): 119-129. doi: 10.1007/s10144-010-0218-5.

McGraw, J. B., Souther, S., and A. E. Lubbers. 2010. Rates of harvest and compliance with regulations in natural populations of American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) Natural Areas Journal 30: 202 – 210.


National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant. 5/1/2009 – 4/30/2011. $15,000.00. Examination of range-wide variation in American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) demography and population viability in the context of climate change. Souther, S. and James B. McGraw.

Curriculum Vitae