Over 70% of essential crop wild relative species in urgent need of collection


Many of the wild plants which will be the building blocks for future global food supply are missing from the world's genebanks, according to new research by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in coordination with the Global Crop Diversity Trust (Crop Trust) and the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), Kew.

These so-called crop wild relatives (CWR) are widely recognized as one of the most important resources available to plant breeders in the fight against climate change. But many have not been collected and conserved in genebanks, meaning breeders are unable to use them. In addition, many of their habitats are under threat from urbanization, pollution, deforestation, climate change and war.

CWR possess valuable genetic diversity that can be used to develop crops capable of adapting and thriving under the impacts of climate change, including higher temperatures, increased soil salinity due to rising sea levels, and more frequent and severe pest and disease outbreaks.

The research mapped 1,076 CWR of the world's 81 most important crops. It revealed significant gaps in the world's genebanks, both in terms of species and regions.

Key findings include:

  • 29% of the total, or 313 wild relative plant species analyzed, are completely missing from the world's genebanks 
  • A further 257 (23.9%) of species are represented by fewer than 10 samples having been collected for each, leaving out a substantial amount of potentially important plant diversity.
  • Over 70% of the total crop wild relative species are in urgent need of collection and conservation to improve their representation in genebanks 
  • Over 95% are insufficiently represented in regard to the full range of geographic and ecological variation in their native distributions. 
  • The most critical collecting gaps occur in the Mediterranean and Near East; western and southern Europe; Southeast and East Asia; and South America. 

The authors found that the wild relatives of important food security crops like banana and plantain, cassava, sorghum and sweetpotato are all in urgent need of collection and conservation, along with those of pineapple, carrot, spinach, and many other fruits and vegetables. Even for the wild relatives of vital staples like rice, wheat, potato, and maize -- which tend to be better represented in genebanks -- there are still significant gaps in the collections.

In addition, they flagged the fact that some of the CWR marked as high priorities for collection and conservation are under threat, from war and civil strife in places like Syria and Afghanistan and from changes in land use, such as deforestation, in southeast Asia.

Journal Reference: Nora P. Castañeda-Álvarez, Colin K. Khoury, Harold A. Achicanoy, Vivian Bernau, Hannes Dempewolf, Ruth J. Eastwood, Luigi Guarino, Ruth H. Harker, Andy Jarvis, Nigel Maxted, Jonas V. Müller, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Chrystian C. Sosa, Paul C. Struik, Holly Vincent, Jane Toll. Global conservation priorities for crop wild relatives. Nature Plants, 2016; 16022 DOI: 10.1038/nplants.2016.22

From Science Daily