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Paper of the Month April 2016

This month we would like to draw your attention to not one but two publications of the Centre for Crop Systems Analysis. One was published in Nature Plants and the other in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Global conservation priorities for crop wild relatives

Abstract

The wild relatives of domesticated crops possess genetic diversity useful for developing more productive, nutritious and resilient crop varieties. However, their conservation status and availability for utilization are a concern, and have not been quantified globally. Here, we model the global distribution of 1,076 taxa related to 81 crops, using occurrence information collected from biodiversity, herbarium and gene bank databases. We compare the potential geographic and ecological diversity encompassed in these distributions with that currently accessible in gene banks, as a means to estimate the comprehensiveness of the conservation of genetic diversity. Our results indicate that the diversity of crop wild relatives is poorly represented in gene banks. For 313 (29.1% of total) taxa associated with 63 crops, no germplasm accessions exist, and a further 257 (23.9%) are represented by fewer than ten accessions. Over 70% of taxa are identified as high priority for further collecting in order to improve their representation in gene banks, and over 95% are insufficiently represented in regard to the full range of geographic and ecological variation in their native distributions. The most critical collecting gaps occur in the Mediterranean and the Near East, western and southern Europe, Southeast and East Asia, and South America. We conclude that a systematic effort is needed to improve the conservation and availability of crop wild relatives for use in plant breeding.

Nora P. Castañeda-Álvarez, Colin K. Khoury, Harold A. Achicanoy, Vivian Bernau, Hannes Dempewolf, Ruth J. Eastwood, Luigi Guarino, Ruth H. Harker, Andy Jarvis, Nigel Maxted, Jonas V. Müller, Julian Ramirez-Villegas, Chrystian C. Sosa, Paul C. Struik, Holly Vincent and Jane Toll (2016) Nature Plants: 16022

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Tragedies and Crops: Understanding Natural Selection To Improve Cropping Systems

Abstract

Plant communities with traits that would maximize community performance can be invaded by plants that invest extra in acquiring resources at the expense of others, lowering the overall community performance, a so-called tragedy of the commons (TOC). By contrast, maximum community performance is usually the objective in agriculture. We first give an overview of the occurrence of TOCs in plants, and explore the extent to which past crop breeding has led to trait values that go against an unwanted TOC. We then show how linking evolutionary game theory (EGT) with mechanistic knowledge of the physiological processes that drive trait expression and the ecological aspects of biotic interactions in agro-ecosystems might contribute to increasing crop yields and resource-use efficiency.

Niels P.R. Anten and Peter J. Vermeulen (2016) Trends in Ecology and Evolution (online first 21 March 2016)

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