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On December 7, COP 15 starts in Montreal where representatives from the world's countries meet to deal with the global biodiversity loss. Crop wild relatives are an example of plant species in nature that are important to conserve, not least to produce crops better adapted to climate change. But competition from invasive plant species, overgrown meadows or excessive grazing, may pose threats to the diversity of important wild plant species. These are some of the conclusions in new inventory reports from Iceland and Sweden.

NordGen coordinates a pan-Nordic project on crop wild relatives, CWR, wild plant species that are closely related to our cultivated crops. These wild plants have traits, such as resistance to drought and pests, that may be valuable in plant breeding of crops better adapted to climate change. As part of the project, inventories of CWR in various parts of the Nordic region were carried out in 2021. Earlier this year, two reports were published detailing inventory work carried out in Iceland (Vatnajökull National Park) and in Sweden (Biosphere Reserve Kristianstad Vattenrike). The reports gather information that gives an indication of the current status of the crop wild relatives and describes some of the threats they may face. “It is important to highlight the presence of the crop wild relatives in nature since these plants are important for our future food security and many people do not realize their significance. The inventory reports may also be used to plan actions for the protection of crop wild relatives,” says Anna Palmé, NordGen's expert on CWR.

Lupines a Threat to Diversity in Iceland

Vatnajökull National Park covers more than 14,000 square kilometers, which corresponds to approximately 15 percent of the country's surface. The national park is considered the protected area in Iceland with the greatest diversity of CWR. During 2021, Magnus Göransson and Hjörtur Þorbjörnsson conducted inventories at two areas in the national park: Skaftafell in the southeast and Jökulsárgljúfur in the most northern part. During the inventory, a total of 16 plant species which are included in the list of prioritized Nordic CWR, were found. One example is the grass species Elymus alopex that was observed for the first time in Skaftafell.

“Many of the crop wild relatives we have found in Iceland are grass species related to forage crops. Elymus alopex, on the other hand, is related to wheat and has a distribution mainly in northern Iceland. Skaftafell is in the south and it was thus a surprise to find it there,” says Hjörtur Þorbjörnsson, director of the Reykjavik Botanical Garden.

The report from Iceland also identifies potential threats to some CWR. Many important grass species thrive on grasslands that are at risk of forestation if not grazed or otherwise maintained. Another threat is the invasive Nootka lupine, Lupinus nootkatensis.

“It is a threat to species diversity, mainly in nutrient poor grass and heath lands. As the national park is very large, fortunately there are still abundant areas without impact from the lupines, however this may change relatively fast as the lupine has the ability to spread fast once introduced, says Magnus Göransson, consultant and project leader at the Reykjavik Botanical Garden.

Heavy Grazing Is a Problem

The second inventory report concerns the Biosphere Reserve Kristianstad Vattenrike in the south of Sweden. This area has shown a high diversity of CWR in previous studies. Mora Aronsson, consultant at SLU Swedish Species Information Centre, carried out inventories in four areas: Fjälkinge backe, Degeberga backar (Söndre klack), Sånnarna and Lyngsjö. The greatest number of different CWR species, 23, were found in Fjälkinge backe. In this area, several invasive species were also found, which may pose a threat to the current diversity of CWR. The report also describes that some areas were suffering from very heavy grazing, something that can mean difficulties, especially for grass species in Fjälkinge backe: 

“To get a more optimal preservation of crop wild relatives, the grazing regime must be more flexible and adjusted to support the different species in the grazed area. This must be done in combination with setting up a monitoring program to follow the progress.”


  • Climate change modelling of the geographic distribution of CWR species.

  • In-depth inventories to determine presence and status of CWR populations in selected sites (protected areas).

  • Collecting of seeds from selected CWR species for conservation at NordGen.

  • Evaluation of the genetic diversity of selected CWR species across the Nordic region (using molecular markers).

  • Workshops and meetings: stakeholder workshops 2021 and 2023, final seminar 2024.

  • Communication: short films, plant portraits, travelling exhibition, scientific papers, policy brief and report etc.

The top photo shows Hjörtur Þorbjörnsson at one location in Skaftafell, photo: Magnus Göransson.