More than 2,800 of the approximately 3,500 species of our native flora are wild species related to our cultivated plants or potentially useful for food and agriculture. Many of these crop wild relatives (CWR) are not only part of our ecosystems, but also an important resource for plant breeding. Plant breeders use the genetic characteristics of these wild species to improve modern crop varieties.
The natural populations of these wild species are increasingly threatened by climate change and other causes. The best way to conserve wild species is to preserve or restore viable populations at their natural sites, i.e. in situ. Then they will have the possibility to continue their adaptation to the changing environmental conditions. They are preferably conserved through nature conservation measures at their natural sites (in-situ) and additionally in genebanks (ex-situ). A list of priority CWR species serves as basis for setting conservation priorities.
In order to improve the ex situ conservation of CWR in Germany, the genebank for wild plants for food and agriculture was established. It comprises seeds of approximately 270 species which are not already included in the collections of other German genebanks. The conservation of CWR in botanical gardens also contributes to the ex situ conservation. In-situ conservation is carried out by designating genetic reserves. A genetic reserve is defined as the area designated for the management and monitoring of genetic variation in natural occurrences of a plant species.
The National Programme PGR provides for the establishment of genetic reserves to improve the conservation of CWR, in particular of those species regarded as particularly important in Germany. The "German Network of Genetic Reserves" has therefore been established, providing a framework for the integration and coordination of targeted CWR in situ conservation measures.