Distributions, conservation status, and abiotic stress tolerance potential of wild cucurbits (Cucurbita L.)

Colin K. Khoury, Daniel Carver, Heather R. Kates, Harold A. Achicanoy, Maarten van Zonneveld, Evert Thomas, Claire Heinitz, Robert Jarret, Joanne A. Labate, Kathy Reitsma, Gary P. Nabhan, Stephanie L. Greene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Crop wild relatives—wild species closely related to cultivated plants—are valuable genetic resources for crop improvement, but gaps in knowledge constrain their conservation and limit their further use. We develop new information on the distributions, potential breeding value, and conservation status of the 16 known wild relatives of cultivated pumpkins, squashes, zucchini, and gourds (Cucurbita L.). The taxa occur from the central USA to Central America, plus two South American species, with the greatest richness in central Mexico and the western borderlands between Mexico and the USA. We determine the majority of species are of medium priority for conservation, both with regard to collecting for ex situ maintenance, and for enhanced habitat protection. Summary Crop wild relatives are valuable genetic resources for crop improvement. Knowledge gaps, including with regard to taxonomy, distributions, and characterization for traits of interest constrain their use in plant breeding. These deficiencies also affect conservation planning, both with regard to in situ habitat protection, and further collection of novel diversity for ex situ maintenance. Here we model the potential ranges of all 16 known wild cucurbit taxa (Cucurbita L.), use ecogeographic information to infer their potential adaptations to abiotic stresses, and assess their ex situ and in situ conservation status. The taxa occur from the central USA to Central America, plus two South American species. Predicted taxon richness was highest in central Mexico and in the western borderlands between Mexico and the USA. We find substantial ecogeographic variation both across taxa and among populations within taxa, with regard to low temperatures, high and low precipitation, and other adaptations of potential interest for crop breeding. We categorize 13 of the taxa medium priority for further conservation as a combination of the ex situ and in situ assessments, two low priority, and one sufficiently conserved. Further action across the distributions of the taxa, with emphasis on taxonomic richness hotspots, is needed to comprehensively conserve wild Cucurbita populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-283
Number of pages15
JournalPlants People Planet
Volume2
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2020

Keywords

  • Cucurbita
  • biodiversity conservation
  • crop wild relatives
  • ex situ conservation
  • gap analysis
  • in situ conservation
  • plant genetic resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Plant Science
  • Forestry
  • Horticulture

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