Violence and strife have affected their conservation, threatening global food security.
A database of the wild relatives of common food crops round the world shows that half of them lie in the Fertile Crescent in West Asia. This survey, by researchers from the University of Birmingham, studied 173 crops and their 1,667 priority wild relatives. The Fertile Crescent includes countries like Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Iran, which are presently a zone of political conflict. In the 21st century, when climate change poses a major threat to global food security, crop wild relatives (CWRs) are an important tool for genetic development of domesticated crops to ensure food security for an increasing population.
The researchers have found that 12 per cent of the CWRs are threatened by extinction and all are likely to have suffered a loss of genetic diversity due to urbanisation, climate change and conflict in hot spot areas.
Scientists have concluded that CWR conservation is the need of the hour. “CWRs can be conserved by prioritising those in need of active conservation, then researching where they are currently found and then, applying ex situ and in situ conservation techniques. For CWRs, these techniques are a mixture of population sampling and seed storage ex situ in seed banks and designation of populations found in existing in situ protected areas,” said Nigel Maxted, lead researcher from the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences. He also stressed the need to preserve them in a gene pool bank and in their natural habitat. The findings were presented at the British Science Association’s press launch for the recently concluded British Science Festival.
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