“A prioritized crop wild relative inventory to help underpin global food security” has just been published in Biological Conservation.

Crop wild relatives (CWR) contain a wealth of important traits for disease resistance and yield improvement, and may provide critical contributions to breeding for adaptation to climate change. Sadly, climate change itself, along with habitat modification, invasive species, and other factors are threatening CWR populations, thus jeopardizing these useful natural resources.

Why is it that despite their potential value, many CWR species are not adequately collected and conserved? The need for a systematic method for conservation has been clearly recognized by theFood and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and formalized in theInternational Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. The very first objectives of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) of the Convention on Biological Diversity, which relate to understanding, documenting, and recognizing plant diversity, reveal a major part of the answer. If we don’t know what CWR species exist, where they live, and how threatened they are, then how can we successfully collect and conserve them?

Among wild species, an additional piece of information is vital in regard to prioritization of CWR- the degree of relatedness of the wild species to its crop cousin- as this degree determines the actual potential for successfully introducing useful traits from the wild species into the crops. Relatedness information derives from a mixture of systematics based upon traditional morphological information as well as increasingly on genotypic data, as well as information from plant breeders attempting crosses between CWR and crops.

This new paper describes the first attempt on a global scale to bring together exactly this critical primary information on CWR species identities—distributions and relatedness information—in order to inform subsequent conservation efforts. The article describes the creation of a global priority CWR inventory covering the CWR of over 150 crops, and reports on the taxonomy, geographic distribution, potential use in plant breeding for crop improvement, and seed storage behaviour of valuable CWR.

The inventory is available online at www.cwrdiversity.org/checklist/ and is searchable by crop gene pool, individual CWR species, country/region, and reported uses in breeding. Its data has provided the foundation for the global “‘Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: collecting, protecting and preparing crop wild relatives” project, as well as activities such as an  ecogeographic study of the grasspea gene pool, a national CWR inventory for the USA, and Jordan’s national strategy for plant conservation.

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