Genetic diversity in wild cereals: Regional and local studies and their bearing on conservation ex situ and in situ

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The current alarming global crisis and extinction of biodiversity affect negatively the planet's biosphere. Conservation of biodiversity is one attempt to alleviate the pending extinction of the biosphere by humans. Genetic diversity, the basis of evolution by natural selection, is gravely threatened in the progenitors of cultivated plants and its exploration, evaluation, conservation in situ and ex situ is imperative to guarantee sustainable development. This is illustrated by the population genetics and ecology of two important progenitors of cereals, wild wheat and barley. The wild cereals are rich in adaptive genetic diversity in the Fertile Crescent, primarily in Israel, which is their center of origin and diversity. The 40-55% intrapopulation diversity level in the wild cereals contrasts sharply with the average of 80% in outbreeders. Genetic diversity in wild wheat and barley is structured, particularly in wild emmer wheat, as an 'archipelago' ecological and genetic structure. These include central, semi-isolated and ecologically peripheral and marginal isolated populations, where specific alleles and allele combinations predominate as coadapted blocks of genes, adaptive to diverse ecological stresses. These involve both physical (climatic and edaphic) and biotic (pathogens and parasites) stresses at macro- and microgeographical scales. Complementary in situ and ex situ conservation is imperative across the geographic range of these species, to safeguard their immensely important genetic resources for crop improvement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-370
Number of pages16
JournalGenetic Resources and Crop Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1998

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I extend my deep gratitude to my colleagues Avigdor Beiles and Abraham Korol for reading and commenting on the manuscript. I thank the Israeli Discount Bank Chair of Evolutionary Biology, and the Ancell-Teicher Research Foundation for Genetics and Molecular Evolution established by Florence and Theodore Baumrit-ter of New York, and several grants from the Wolfson Foundation; the Israeli-US Binational Foundations for Science (BSF) and Agriculture (BARD), for financial support of this research.


  • Biological conservation
  • Genetic diversity
  • Wild cereals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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