In situ conservation—harnessing natural and human-derived evolutionary forces to ensure future crop adaptation

Mauricio R. Bellon, Ehsan Dulloo, Julie Sardos, Imke Thormann, Jeremy J. Burdon

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Ensuring the availability of the broadest possible germplasm base for agriculture in the face of increasingly uncertain and variable patterns of biotic and abiotic change is fundamental for the world's future food supply. While ex situ conservation plays a major role in the conservation and availability of crop germplasm, it may be insufficient to ensure this. In situ conservation aims to maintain target species and the collective genotypes they represent under evolution. A major rationale for this view is based on the likelihood that continued exposure to changing selective forces will generate and favor new genetic variation and an increased likelihood that rare alleles that may be of value to future agriculture are maintained. However, the evidence that underpins this key rationale remains fragmented and has not been examined systematically, thereby decreasing the perceived value and support for in situ conservation for agriculture and food systems and limiting the conservation options available. This study reviews evidence regarding the likelihood and rate of evolutionary change in both biotic and abiotic traits for crops and their wild relatives, placing these processes in a realistic context in which smallholder farming operates and crop wild relatives continue to exist. It identifies areas of research that would contribute to a deeper understanding of these processes as the basis for making them more useful for future crop adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)965-977
Number of pages13
JournalEvolutionary Applications
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • agriculture
  • conservation
  • crop wild relatives
  • landraces
  • plant genetic resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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