Wild relatives of common food crops such as the potato and the peanut are at risk of extinction due to climate change, a group of agricultural scientists in the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) warned today to mark International Biodiversity Day. Simultaneously, in England, the Millennium Seed Bank banked its billionth seed against the risks of a warming planet.
Extinction of crop wild relatives threatens food production because they contain genes for traits such as pest resistance and drought tolerance, which plant breeders use to improve the performance of cultivated varieties.
In the next 50 years, said Andy Jarvis, the study’s leading author, up to 60 percent of the 51 wild peanut species analyzed and 12 percent of the 108 wild potato species analyzed could become extinct as the result of climate change. Jarvis says there is "an urgent need" to collect and store the seeds of wild relatives in crop diversity collections before they disappear.
In England, The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew marked International Biological Diversity Day by banking its billionth seed in the vaults of the Millennium Seed Bank. The billionth seed is from an African bamboo, Oxytenanthera abyssinica, and was collected in Mali, West Africa. Within Mali, and other sub-Saharan African countries, this bamboo is used for house construction, furniture, basket and wine making, but over-harvesting has led to the species becoming endangered.
Today, the Millennium Seed Bank holds the largest wild seed collection in the world and works with over 100 partner organizations in 50 countries. In all cases, seed collections are kept in the country of origin, in partner seed banks, and duplicates are brought to the Millennium Seed Bank. Kew's Millennium Seed Bank already contains the seeds of more than 18,000 wild plant species from 126 countries.
By 2010, Kew says, 10 percent of the world's wild flowering plant species - totaling 30,000 species - will be banked, with priority given to those that are endangered, endemic, of current local use, or of potential economic value.