Threats to Crop Wild Relatives

Climate change

Like many wild species, Crop Wild Relatives are on the decline, both at the taxonomic and at the genetic level.

54% of the 1,155 Monocotyledons evaluated in the IUCN 2008 Red List Assessment were classified as endangered or facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, whereas 12% were listed as being critically endangered. This is all the more important when we consider that the Monocotyledon family includes economically important crops such as rice, wheat, maize, barley, sorghum/millet and sugarcane, which alone provide more than half of the dietary energy of the world’s population.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that about 75% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost in the last century due to the widespread abandonment of genetically diverse traditional crops in favour of genetically uniform modern crop varieties.

Anthropogenic pressures are putting a severe strain on the natural distribution of crop wild relatives and threatening their very existence. Threats to the these important species are mostly linked to habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation. As global populations rise - along with the demand for food and natural resources - deforestation, industrialised agriculture and urbanization are causing the destruction of the habitats where many of these species currently thrive.

More importantly, as species are lost to the "advance of civilization" so is their inherent genetic diversity, that is the supply of beneficial and adaptive traits that have are used for crop improvement and with the ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Climate change itself poses a major threat to CWR. The predicted rise in global temperatures over the next 50 years and the consequent changes in regional and seasonal rainfall patterns will have a significant impact on the survival of CWR, accelerating the reduction of suitable habitats and increasing the rate of habitat fragmentation. with many predicted to be extinct by 2050.

There is an urgent need to identify priority species and areas for conservation and to develop integrated and conservation strategies to ensure that the rich genetic diversity of crop wild relatives is protected for the benefit of future generations.



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IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - the leading international body for the assessment of climate change, established by UNEP and WMO to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts.

As climate Warms, Species May Need to Migrate or Perish by Carl Zimmer.