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The establishment and implementation of in situ conservation goals for national CWR diversity involve 12 steps:

  1. Review in situ conservation gaps.
  2. Combine in situ conservation gaps with the results of the diversity analyses.
  3. Incorporate climate change analyses into site selection.
  4. Select the preliminary in situ CWR conservation sites for target CWR.
  5. Integrate in situ conservation priorities with national/international agri-environmental schemes.
  6. Ground truth of preliminary sites to determine whether sites are suitable for in situ conservation of target CWR.
  7. Reformulate in situ conservation priorities (if necessary).
  8. Select final CWR in situ conservation sites and actions.
  9. Ensure the sites (genetic reserves) comply at least with the minimum quality standards.
  10. Ensure communities are involved in local CWR diversity conservation and management.
  11. Produce in situ site and CWR taxa conservation action/management plans.
  12. Establish routine collection of CWR diversity for ex situ conservation back-up.

1. Review in situ conservation gaps

In situ conservation gaps at individual taxon, ecogeographic, genetic and trait levels should be reviewed in order to establish priorities for in situ conservation.

2. Combine in situ conservation gaps with the results of the diversity analyses

Diversity analyses include hotspots and complementarity analyses at individual taxon, ecogeographic and genetic diversity levels (for information on individual and ecogeographic diversity analyses, click here for information on individual taxon and ecogeographic diversity analyses and here for genetic diversity analyses). In situ conservation gaps and the results obtained in the diversity analyses should be integrated into the national in situ CWR network of genetic reserves and informal CWR management sites to conserve priority CWR diversity.

3. Incorporate climate change analyses into site selection

If you have undertaken a study on how climate change may impact the distribution of priority CWR, then you should take that into account when selecting sites for active in situ conservation. The rationale lies in the fact that in situ conservation sites should be established and implemented in areas where CWR populations will not be affected negatively by climate change (or the negative impact is minimal) so as to ensure their persistence in the wild and within the genetic reserves (Magos Brehm et al. 2016).

4. Select preliminary in situ CWR conservation sites for target CWR

The in situ conservation network is likely to result from the combination of in situ conservation gaps, diversity analyses (hotspot, complementarity etc.) and climate change analysis.

  • Within or outside protected areas (PA)? If the sites overlap with existing PA, then their implementation is facilitated. Where sites do not overlap with existing PA then informal CWR management sites could be established, the boundaries of existing PA may be extended or novel PA established. See CWR genetic reserves within and outside protected areas for more information.
  • Single or multiple CWR? A selected site may cover a single CWR taxon or may cover multiple CWR taxa. Equally, in a network of sites, some sites may cover only one taxon but others may contain many. If we look at particular ecogeographic/genetic/trait diversity, then a site covering multiple CWR is unlikely to represent the full range of diversity for every CWR, meaning that we would need to look at either sites for a single CWR, choosing the sites that are most diverse, or use a combination of the single and multiple CWR conservation site approaches. The main objective for setting up an in situ conservation site is to ensure that maximum genetic diversity of the target CWR gene pool is captured in the system (Dulloo et al. 2008). Therefore, if financial and human resources are available, single CWR sites for exceptionally important CWR populations should be established based on important ecogeographic/genetic/trait diversity.
  • How many in situ conservation sites? The number of sites depends on how CWR diversity (i.e. ecogeographic/genetic/trait) is distributed within and among populations throughout the target territory. For each CWR, if no studies on ecogeographic/genetic/trait diversity have been carried out, Lawrence and Marshall (1997) have recommended the conservation of five populations from the most ecogeographically diverse sites in order to maximize genetic diversity conservation. The determination of the actual number of sites is, nevertheless, likely to be dictated by the financial and human resources available for implementation. This preliminary site selection should result in an ordered list of potential sites and appropriate conservation actions (i.e. implementing a genetic reserve within an existing PA, extending the borders of an existing PA to include priority populations of target CWR, implementing informal CWR management sites). If more resources are then made available, this list can help guide decisions on where further in situ CWR conservation could be implemented.

5. Integrate in situ conservation priorities with national/international agri-environmental schemes

The selected preliminary sites that constitute a national network of genetic reserves and informal CWR management sites should be integrated with agro-environmental schemes (e.g. those funded by the European Commission or other regional agencies) so that their management is nationally coordinated and regionally integrated. Encouragingly, there is a growing effort to strengthen the relationship between agriculture and the provision of ecosystem services (FAO 2010). Activities that promote the in situ conservation of PGRFA are now being set up as a result of Payment for Environmental Services (PES) schemes in an attempt to encourage and reward local communities for their role in conserving and managing PGRFA for the future. However, the actual implementation of these schemes remains a significant challenge in many countries. National Strategic Action Plans (NSAP) for the conservation and sustainable utilization of CWR should also be integrated into national programmes, through the appropriate national focal point(s), for the implementation of the CBD, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs), the ITPGRFA (ITPGRFA 2001) and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC). Whether CWR are conserved in situ within PAs or outside of them, it is advisable that the sites have some form of legal protection to help prevent sudden threats to conserved populations (e.g. through a dramatic change in land use).

6. Ground truth of preliminary sites to determine whether sites are suitable for in situ conservation of target CWR

The sites must be ‘ground truthed’ in order to check whether they are suitable for long-term conservation of the target CWR. Various reasons may exist why even the highest priority potential sites may be unsuitable in practice:

  • CWR population may be absent or below the minimum viable population size.
  • Land ownership: understanding whether the site is publically or privately owned is likely to be an important consideration. If the site is publically owned it is more likely that the site’s future management can be amended to favour the target CWR population/s, particularly if the implementation of the in situ conservation site fulfils government policy objectives. On the other hand, if the site is privately owned the owner may be less amenable to making potential management changes to the site.
  • Current land use: if the site is already under conservation management it would be easier to amend the site management for genetic CWR conservation than if it is managed for commercial purposes.
  • Whether a site occurs inside or outside an existing PA, and PA status: if the site occurs within an existing PA it is probably easier to adjust the site management to incorporate CWR conservation. Yet, as the existing PA would not have been established for CWR conservation, the objectives of the PA management may not be amenable to adaptation to include CWR conservation (e.g. the management of large herbivores or coniferous trees is likely to conflict with herb CWR management).
  • Current and potential threats to the long-term sustainability of CWR populations, their habitats and the sites: threats may be wide-ranging and include those that are the direct result of human actions (e.g. changes in land use or site management, plans to develop the area and urbanize a potential PA site), and those that are the indirect result of human actions that are largely out of the control of those responsible for the management of the site (e.g. the environmental effects of climate change or catastrophic events such as floods or landslides). Surveys should be carried out to detect the former, and to estimate the potential impacts. This information can then be considered when making the decision whether to proceed with the protection of the site. In contrast, the latter is likely to require the use of species distribution modelling, which may already have been incorporated earlier in this process to select areas that are the least affected, hence ensuring the long-term preservation of CWR (see step 3 and here for more details on climate change analysis).
  • Local community acceptance/involvement (see step 10 for more information).

7. Reformulate in situ conservation priorities (if necessary)

The ordered list of potential in situ conservation sites produced as part of the preliminary selection is the initial step towards the final list of sites. If the highest priority potential sites are unsuitable, sites further down the ordered list would need to be considered. The process of selecting in situ sites is pragmatic and iterative. It continues until a list of suitable sites can be agreed for implemention of conservation action, either in a genetic reserve or informal CWR management site. It should, however, be highlighted that if for some reason there are no suitable sites for the in situ conservation of priority CWR taxa or a population of particular interest, then the ex situ conservation of those taxa/populations must be carried out.

8. Select final in situ CWR conservation sites for target CWR

The final selection of in situ conservation sites results from screening the preliminary selection using information gathered during the site visit. Pragmatically, priority should be assigned to the sites containing suitable habitats that are not predicted to be altered significantly in the medium to long term. A well balanced set of in situ conservation sites may contain a mix of: (i) genetic reserves established in existing PA, (ii) informal CWR management sites, (iii) sites in areas where PA boundaries have been extended, and (iv) sites established as novel PA. Together, each of these will form the National In Situ CWR Conservation Network that should be managed as a coherent whole. It should be emphasized that ultimately, the final selection of sites—although a pragmatic decision directed by science—is dictated by the resources available for in situ conservation and the governmental policy context at both the national and local levels.

9. Ensure the sites (genetic reserves) comply at least with the minimum quality standards

The quality standards for in situ CWR conservation sites (Iriondo et al. 2012) provide useful guidance for both the practitioners involved in the design of in situ conservation strategies for CWR and the PA managers interested in their conservation. The standards have two levels: ‘minimum’ and ‘optimal’ quality standards. The minimum quality standards are baseline requirements necessary for any genetic reserve to function and fulfil its conservation objectives, whereas optimal quality standards include a more rigorous set of requirements. Quality standards can be applied to: (a) the genetic reserves themselves, and include traits such as location, spatial structure, target taxa, populations and management, (b) the PAs selected for the establishment of genetic reserves and (c) informal in situ conservation areas outside of formal PAs.

10. Ensure communities are involved in local CWR diversity conservation and management

Promoting the involvement of local communities in in situ conservation and management of CWR is often crucial for conservation to be effective, especially when in situ conservation sites are located on private land. Local community training workshops can be carried out and agreements with private owners (e.g. tax incentives) can be made. However, agreements must be linked to some form of guarantee from the land owner to ensure CWR diversity thrives. For example, establishment of a management agreement including a conservation prescription in order to ensure CWR are properly managed, but also to recognize the local communities’ role in conserving such a valuable resource. For examples on the integration of conservation into local communities and industry, click here.

11. Produce in situ site and CWR taxa conservation action/management plans

The first step in formulating a CWR management plan, or amending an existing management plan to include CWR, is to observe the biotic and abiotic dynamics of the site considering both CWR and non-CWR species. A survey of the species present in the site should be carried out to help understand the ecological interactions within the reserve. A clear conservation goal should be decided and a means of implementation agreed. This process may involve some compromise between the priorities for CWR and non-CWR species conservation. This then forms the basis of the site action/managements plans, which will contain information on: CWR taxonomy, description, image, distribution, ecogeography, current conservation status and actions, threat assessment, uses, additional conservation actions required, research and monitoring requirements, incorporation into existing national or local conservation initiatives and, perhaps most importantly, it summarizes the management interventions recommended for the site and how the CWR are to be monitored to ensure the management is promoting CWR population health (Maxted et al. 2008b). As part of the routine site management, a monitoring regime that results in collection time series data of target CWR’ populations should be implemented with the aim of facilitating future reviews of project interventions (for more information, click here).

12. Establish routine collection of CWR diversity for ex situ conservation back-up

CWR diversity within the National In Situ CWR Conservation Network should be backed up ex situ as an insurance in case there is a reduction of genetic diversity in CWR populations or in case they go extinct (Maxted et al. 2008b).

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.