There is a pressing need for agriculture to adapt to climate change, and learning more about wild relatives of crop plants could help us achieve this. Collecting guides produced by Kew for the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project help make seed-collecting fieldwork as productive as possible.
If you had to collect seeds from a particular species within a particular country, how would you know exactly where to go? How would you distinguish the species you were targeting from its close relatives? How would you know when the seeds would be ripe? Researching the answers to these questions is a key step in the collection of all types of seeds, and for the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change project at Kew we create collection guides (a kind of bespoke field guide) with all the information seed collectors need.
Data for all the CWR species on the project list are stored in the database program BRAHMS, which allows us to generate dynamic field guides by extracting the information for the subset of species for a particular country and placing it in a template for publication. This semi-automates the process and saves production time and cost. We provide a description for each species in a standard Flora style, because the users of the guides are scientists rather than the general public. We also highlight the key features that distinguish the target species from its close relatives in that region and provide additional information like phenology, habitat and altitude range and a suggested seed collecting technique to ensure high quality collections.
Most Floras display distribution maps as a series of points, usually based on locations of herbarium collections, which are useful because the points are verifiable. In addition to point data, MaxEnt data predicted distribution maps provided by CIAT are included in the guides. Distribution maps are shown alongside maps resulting from the gap analysis research, so that seed collections can be targeted to populations not already represented within seed banks. These maps are available on the CWR Atlas.
Arguably the most used part of a field guide is the images, and images of live plants are often preferred by users. However, images must be authoritatively named to species to be of any use in a field guide, so images from herbarium specimens identified by an expert can sometimes be more useful, if less attractive, than those from live plants. Species that are very rare or have a restricted range have often never been photographed, so images from a dried specimen are the only option in those cases.