Towards the conservation of crop wild relative diversity in North Africa: checklist, prioritisation and inventory
Crop wild relatives (CWR) are wild species that are more or less genetically related to crops that can be used to introgress useful genes for improvement of productivity, resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses and quality of cultivated crops. They are important in crop improvement to achieve food security for an increasing population and to overcome the challenges caused by climate change and the new virulence of major diseases and pests. These genetic resources are increasingly threatened in their natural habitats through over-exploitation and land reclamation and degradation. Therefore, their efficient and effective conservation would be taxonomically and genetically valuable and will contribute to maintaining and promoting the sustainability of crop diversity, facilitating agricultural production and supporting the increasing demand for food, feed and natural resources. A checklist of 5780 Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) taxa from North Africa was obtained using the CWR Catalogue for Europe and the Mediterranean (PGR Forum). Of which consists 76% of the flora of North Africa. The checklist contains 5588 (~97%) native taxa and 192 introduced. Families with higher taxa richness are Fabaceae, Asteraceae, and Poaceae. These three families constitute more than 33% of the total taxa included in the checklist. About 9% (502) CWR taxa identified as a priority for conservation in North Africa using four criteria, the economic value of the crop, the relatedness degree of wild relatives to their crop, threat status using IUCN red list assessment, and finally the centre of origin and/or diversity of the crop. Of these, 112 taxa were assigned high, 268 medium and 122 low priorities for effective conservation. Those assessed as threatened using IUCN Red list and national assessment represent approximately 2% (119 taxa) of the CWR in the region. However, 21 taxa are assessed as critically endangered (CR), 53 as endangered (EN), and 45 as vulnerable (VU). Wild relatives of some globally important crops are present, with those related to wheat (Triticum aestivum L. and T. durum L.) and barley (Hordeum vulgareL.) among the highest priority crops for the North Africa region. Amongst CWR assessed as threatened, only 8 (6.7%) CWR are related to food crops, Avena agadiriana B.R. Baum. et G. Fedak (VU), A. atlantica B.R. Baum et G. Fedak (VU), A. murphyi Ladiz. (EN), Beta macrocarpa Guss. (EN), Olea europaea subsp. maroccana Guss. (VU), Rorippa hayanicaMaire (VU) and Aegilops bicornis (Forssk.) Jaub. et Spach (VU). The wild relative of Safflower Carthamus glaucus M. Bieb is restricted to Egypt and Libya and assessed as rare in Egypt. The information available about the conservation and threat status of CWR in North Africa still lags behind, and more investigations are required.