Seed World

Possible Future CWR Reserves? Inventories in Denmark and Åland Show Areas Rich in Valuable Genetic Resources

The traits of crop wild relatives (CWR) can be important for future plant breeding, not least to develop crops that are better adapted to climate change. Therefore, these plants are especially important to conserve, preferably on site in nature (in situ-conservation). According to two recent inventory reports, several areas in Åland and Denmark would be suitable as CWR genetic reserves, according to a NordGen press release.

NordGen leads a pan-Nordic initiative focused on crop wild relatives (CWR) – wild plant species closely related to cultivated crops. Over centuries, these plants have naturally developed traits like drought and pest resistance, potentially valuable for breeding crops more resilient to climate change. As part of this initiative, surveys of CWR across different Nordic regions have been conducted. Recently, two reports were issued detailing inventory findings from Denmark (Husby, Stråsø, Mols, and Kattrup) and Åland (Nåtö-Jungfruskär Nature Reserve). These reports document the occurrence and status of key CWR species in these specific areas and provide recommendations for their future management.

“CWR are important for our future food security, and not many people are aware of their importance and presence in our Nordic nature,” says Anna Palmé, NordGen’s expert on CWR. “Since these wild plants have adapted to their local habitats, in situ-conservation is the best option. The inventory reports can be used to plan actions for the protection of crop wild relatives.”

Wide Diversity of CWR

In one of the reports, areas in Nåtö-Jungfruskär Nature Reserve in the autonomous region Åland in the Finnish archipelago, is studied. The 559-hectare Nåtö Nature Reserve encompasses diverse habitats and a rich variety of flora and fauna. In the summer of 2023, researchers investigated 44 plots, each 100 square meters in size, uncovering 367 populations of prioritized crop wild relatives (CWR) and identifying 30 CWR species. Seeds from these species were collected for conservation at NordGen. The reserve is highlighted in the report as a crucial habitat for these priority CWR taxa.

“No trampling or other threats were noticed towards CWR taxa during the inventory and the area is generally in very a good state. The site has a wide diversity of CWR and the population sizes are mostly large enough, only few of the species have small numbers of individuals. Therefore, the North-Eastern part of Nåtö-Jungfruskär reserve can be recommended for establishment as a CWR genetic reserve.”

The other report focused on four sites in Denmark: Husby, Stråsø, Mols, and Kattrup. These sites represent a west to east gradient across Denmark, and therefore include different environmental conditions, species pools, and genetic variation. At each site, plot locations have been generated in random. Each plot was a circular area with a radius of 15 meters, where the presence of CWR species were recorded. Across all four sites, a total of 212 plots were surveyed which resulted in 54 registered CWR species. The authors of the report found the majority of the populations viable, and the four sites as represent candidates for future protection of CWR populations.

“Overall, we found the majority of observed CWR species populations to be viable in the four inventory areas and can recommend the sites as suitable refugium for in-situ preservation of genetic variation. Since all four sites are prioritized for maintaining or restoring natural processes to benefit biodiversity in general, we expect that this will also leverage the protection and potentially establishment of CWR species.”