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Keywords:

  • adaptation;
  • agriculture;
  • centers of crop origin;
  • climate change;
  • crop genetic resources;
  • in situ conservation;
  • landraces;
  • phenotypic plasticity

Abstract

Landraces cultivated in centers of crop diversity result from past and contemporary patterns of natural and farmer-mediated evolutionary forces. Successful in situ conservation of crop genetic resources depends on continuity of these evolutionary processes. Climate change is projected to affect agricultural production, yet analyses of impacts on in situ conservation of crop genetic diversity and farmers who conserve it have been absent. How will crop landraces respond to alterations in climate? We review the roles that phenotypic plasticity, evolution, and gene flow might play in sustaining production, although we might expect erosion of genetic diversity if landrace populations or entire races lose productivity. For example, highland maize landraces in southern Mexico do not express the plasticity necessary to sustain productivity under climate change, but may evolve in response to altered conditions. The outcome for any given crop in a given region will depend on the distribution of genetic variation that affects fitness and patterns of climate change. Understanding patterns of neutral and adaptive diversity from the population to the landscape scale is essential to clarify how landraces conserved in situ will continue to evolve and how to minimize genetic erosion of this essential natural resource.