Examples and applied use

The project Adapting agriculture to climate change: collecting, protecting and preparing crop wild relatives is supported by the Government of Norway and managed by the Global Crop Diversity Trust and the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in partnership with CIAT, the University of Birmingham, national/international genebanks and plant breeding institutes from around the world (Dempewolf et al. 2014, also see here). Although the bulk of the project will focus on the utilization of CWR diversity, it includes the first systematic attempt to collect and conserve priority CWR diversity at a global scale. This is only feasible due to:

  1. Increasing clarification of the taxonomic and genetic relationships between CWR.
  2. Ease of access to large online ecogeographic data resources.
  3. Better knowledge and tools for modelling and mapping the distribution of plant species using geographic information systems (GIS).
  4. A concerted global desire to implement the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA 2001).

Priority CWR species were identified by combining the ITPGRFA Annex 1 and the major and minor food crops listed in Appendix 2 of the World Atlas of Biodiversity (Groombridge and Jenkins 2002). This resulted in a list of approximately 10,500 CWR species. To produce a reduced list of priority CWR, only those species present in Gene Pools 1B and 2 or Taxon Group 1B, 2 and 3 were included, as these are the taxa that can most easily be used in plant breeding using conventional techniques. The final priority list contains 1,392 CWR species from 193 crop gene pools. It is intended as a tool to help fill the gaps in the collection of CWR diversity for 29 globally important crops and to conserve them ex situ, before preparing them for use in plant breeding programmes in order to develop new crop varieties adapted to new climates. So far, the project has resulted in an inventory of CWR, an extensive CWR occurrence dataset of 5.4 million records and a gap analysis to identify the locations of genetic diversity that are not represented, or are under-represented, in ex situ collections; this information can be used to plan germplasm collecting for ex situ conservation (see Castañeda-Álvarez et al. 2016). The project is currently supporting national partners to collect CWR and duplicate them at the Millennium Seed Bank, Kew for long-term storage and for distribution to pre-breeders. In total, the project will support 20 countries to carry out collecting activities. Following collection, traits of value for adaptation to climate change will be transferred into cultivated lines through pre-breeding, and the results will be evaluated in the field. The wild species accessions and the promising lines generated will be collected and made available to the global community for breeding and research under the terms of the ITPGRFA. A spin-off project is also looking at the ideal sites to establish genetic reserves around the globe to conserve these 1,392 priority CWR taxa, to help prioritize global in situ conservation actions (Vincent et al. in prep).

Source: Khoury et al. (2011), Dempewolf et al. (2014), Castañeda-Álvarez et al. (2016)

Lathyrus belinensis Maxted & Goyder, a taxon group 2 wild relative of both sweet pea and chickling vetch.

In 1987, while collecting legume species near Cavus, Antalya province in Turkey, a new species of the genus Lathyrus was discovered and described as Lathyrus belinensis Maxted & Goyder. The single population was growing alongside a new road that was being cut through fields between Kumluca and Tekirova. The population appeared to have its greatest concentration in and around an ungrazed village graveyard in the village of Belin. The new species was most closely related to L. odoratus (sweet pea), being just as scented as sweet pea but with hairier vegetative parts. The most striking and economically interesting distinguishing feature of L. belinensis is the flower colour, which is yellow with conspicuous red veins. This contrasts with L. odoratus flowers, which can be purple, blue, pink or cream, but never yellow. Thus the discovery of L. belinensis was an opportunity for horticulturalists to breed a yellow sweet pea―a goal of many contemporary sweet pea breeders.

The type population was found over an area of only 2 km2 and although the species was published in 1988, no further populations have subsequently been reported. The only known population was threatened by the new road construction and the planting of conifers at the time of original collection. On returning to collect more seed in 2010, the original type location had been destroyed by earthworks associated with the building of a new police station. Although a few plants were found in the area and seed is held ex situ, the richest area within the site had been lost. L. belinensis has recently been assessed using IUCN Red List Criteria as Critically Endangered—the most highly threatened category. Only time will tell if field conservation will save this species in the wild!

Source: Maxted (2012)

The Interactive Toolkit for Crop Wild Relative Conservation Planning was developed within the framework of the SADC CWR project www.cropwildrelatives.org/sadc-cwr-project (2014-2016),
which was co-funded by the European Union and implemented through ACP-EU Co-operation Programme in Science and Technology (S&T II) by the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.
Grant agreement no FED/2013/330-210.