The wild cousins of agricultural plants, crop wild relatives (CWRs) are important sources of genetic diversity with potential for breeding more nutritious varieties with higher yields and climate change tolerance.
Exploring relevant areas for in situ conservation of CWRs, this study applies species distribution modelling to 1,261 wild species from 167 major crop gene pools using a global CWR database mediated by GBIF. The models reveal the highest concentrations of CWRs in the Mediterranean basin with a hotspot on the northeast Lebanese/Syrian border.
In future climates, the crop types with the most CWRs predicted to lose more than 50 per cent of their distribution potential are root, bulb or tuberous vegetables, but cereals and legumes are also likely to face substantial losses. Citrus is the least affected crop.
While prioritizing areas for conservation, the authors find that protecting the top 150 sites would only involve 0.01 per cent of the total terrestrial area of the world. The conservation of just the top 10 sites inside and outside existing protected areas, respectively, would protect 475 CWR species and more than 1,200 CWR/crop combinations.