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Wild relatives to potato, wheat and timothy are some examples among the 19 new prioritized species.

Recently, new species was added to the list of prioritized crop wild relatives in the Nordic region. The wild plants in the list are especially important to conserve for our future food production.

Top picture: Garden angelica is one of the 19 new prioritized wild species, photo: Oddvar Pedersen.

NordGen is responsible for coordinating a pan-Nordic project on crop wild relatives (CWR), wild species that are closely related to cultivated crops. These wild plants have genetic traits (for example resistance to drought, water logging or pests) that may be needed in the future when new crops adapted to climate changes will be developed. In 2017, a comprehensive checklist for all Nordic CWR was made for the first time. In total, the list included 2,753 wild taxa (taxa for example includes species or subspecies) growing in the Nordic region related to medicinal, ornamental, forestry, food or forage crops. This checklist is a useful tool for conservation planning but conserving all these plants in situ

(conservation on site) and ex situ

(conservation in genebanks) is not realistic. Therefore, work began to limit the list to a selection of the most important species in the Nordic region.

Nordic Priority List

In 2019,

the Nordic Priority Crop Wild Relative Dataset

was completed. The taxa in the priority list only includes relatives to food and forage crops and were prioritized based on socioeconomic value and potential value for breeding. In total, 115 taxa were included in the priority list. – With today's resources, it is impossible to conduct conservation work that includes all crop wild relatives in the Nordic region. That is why it is important to work from a list of the most important wild plants that may become useful in future plant breeding, says Anna Palmé, NordGens CWR expert and project coordinator. In the CWR project, Nordic plant breeders and scientists were asked if they considered any species to be missing in the priority list. Their suggestions were evaluated for socioeconomic value and utilization potential. This resulted in 19 new species being added to the priority list in the end of 2021 (see fact box below). – We had noticed that there is more data available on the genepools and use of CWR in breeding. To me it was exciting to include relatives of wheat (Elymus and Leymus species), barley (Hordeum species) and potato (Solanum species) to the Nordic list, says Heli Fitzgerald, project coordinator at the University of Helsinki Botanical Garden and participant in the Nordic CWR project.

Invasive but useful

In the updated priority list information about invasiveness and threat levels also was added. For example, musk strawberry (Fragaria moschata

) is considered to have a high risk to be invasive in Norway and Sweden but not in the other Nordic countries. – We don’t plan to conserve invasive species in situ

in the country where it’s considered invasive. This is the reason this information is listed. However, the invasive species may be interesting genetic resources and can be conserved ex situ

from where they can be available for utilization, says Fitzgerald. The work with the prioritization of Nordic CWR is not finished, further species may be added in the future. – Some species were left on a ‘waiting list’ and therefore can be added in the future if more information emerges about their utilization potential and value. The priority list is not meant to be stagnant but can be modified in the future according to the need at that moment, says Fitzgerald.

FACTS: New species (and related crops) on the Nordic CWR priority list

Angelica archangelica

, garden angelica (angelica) Apium graveolens

, wild celery (celery) Elymus alopex

(wheat) Elymus caninus

, bearded couch (wheat) Elymus fibrosus

(wheat) Elymus kronokensis

, northern couch (wheat) Elymus mutabilis

(wheat) Festuca arenaria

(red fescue) Hordeum jubatum,

foxtail barley (barley, rye) Leymus arenarius

, sea lyme grass (wheat) Mentha aquatica,

water mint (bergamot mint) Mentha arvensis

(corn mint) Phleum alpinum,

alpine cat’s tail (timothy) Phleum arenarium,

mountain timothy (timothy) Phleum phleoides,

Bohemer’s cat’s tail (timothy) Raphanus raphanistrum,

jointed charlock (radish, mustard, rape kale) Rubus saxatilis,

rock bramble (raspberry) Schedonorus pratensis

(meadow fescue) Solanum nigrum,

black nightshade (potato)