Crop Wild Relatives of North America Project
In collaboration with the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) and the Alliance for Crop, Soil and Environmental Science Societies (ACSESS), a group of scientists, including Denver Botanic Gardens’ Dr. Sarada Krishnan, worked during 2017-2019 to develop a roadmap for the public engagement, conservation and use of North American crop wild relatives and wild utilized plants.
In early April 2019 this collaborative group conducted the workshop “Celebrating Crop Diversity: Connecting Agriculture, Public Gardens, and Science” in Des Moines, Iowa. The goal of this workshop was to create a strong collaboration between public gardens and researchers and practitioners in the field of agronomy in order to increase information sharing for agricultural sustainability. One outcome of this collaborative effort was the development of a roadmap for the conservation, use and public engagement of North American Crop Wild Relatives (CWRs).
In the context of climate change and loss of biodiversity, sustainable agricultural productivity will depend on crop wild relatives, the wild cousins of agricultural plants. These valuable genetic resources are used by plant breeders to increase yield, develop pest and disease resistance, improve nutritional profile, and other traits critical to the productivity, quality and sustainability of agricultural crops. The crop wild relatives of North America (Canada, Mexico and the United States) are under-represented in genebanks, botanical gardens, and other conservation repositories, and many of their populations are threatened in their natural habitats. These conservation gaps as well as lack of information about them limit the use of this useful plant diversity for the benefit of present and future generations.
An ambitious coordinated effort is needed among plant conservation, land management, agricultural science, and botanical education and outreach organizations to secure, enhance the use of, and raise awareness of North American crop wild relatives.
To accomplish the goals of better conservation, facilitated use, and increased public awareness of North America’s crop wild relatives, a roadmap has been identified which outlines five action steps:
- Understanding and documenting North America’s crop wild relatives and wild utilized plants
- Protecting threatened species in their natural habitats
- Collecting and conserving ex situ the diversity of prioritized species
- Making this diversity accessible and attractive for plant breeding, research and education
- Raising public awareness of their value and the threats to their persistence
The proposed roadmap is an ambitious regional initiative built on partnerships between plant conservation, land management, agricultural science, and botanical education and outreach organizations.
Madagascar: Developing a conservation strategy for Eligmocarpus cynometroides, a priority species in the Littoral forests of Madagascar
Eligmocarpus cynometroides is a tree species endemic to the littoral forests of southeastern Madagascar, where it grows in the narrow, transitional area between the humid and sub-arid bioclimatic zones. It is classified as critically endangered due to habitat loss, selective harvesting, and mining activities. It occurs within an area of only 77 km2 in only two subpopulations, neither of which are within protected areas. There were only 30 known individual plants documented in the wild during a 2007 survey and there is concern that they may become extinct soon if rescue strategies are not developed soon. The purpose of this project is to develop conservation strategies for long term conservation of this species by ensuring that the entire genetic diversity of the existing populations is preserved.
In March 2013, a collection expedition was undertaken, funded by the Association of Zoological Horticulture Conservation Grant. During this field study, only 14 trees were in existence. Genetic and seed propagation studies were performed. The report on this study can be accessed here.
From the germination study, we only had one plant that survived and is now growing in our greenhouses. We will be testing protocols to propagate this species by tissue culture. If successful in increasing numbers though tissue culture, we hope to distribute plants to other botanic gardens as back up collections and safe-keeping in the event this tree were to become extinct in the wild.