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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2018

Capturing genetic variation in crop wild relatives: An evolutionary approach

Egan, Paul A.; Muola, Anne; Stenberg, Johan A.


Crop wild relatives (CWRs) offer novel genetic resources for crop improvement. To assist in the urgent need to collect and conserve CWR germplasm, we advance here the concept of an evolutionary approach. Central to this approach is the predictive use of spatial proxies of evolutionary processes (natural selection, gene flow and genetic drift) to locate and capture genetic variation. As a means to help validate this concept, we screened wild-collected genotypes of woodland strawberry (Fragaria vesca) in a common garden. A quantitative genetic approach was then used to test the ability of two such proxiesmesoclimatic variation (a proxy of natural selection) and landscape isolation and geographic distance between populations (proxies of gene flow potential)to predict spatial genetic variation in three quantitative traits (plant size, early season flower number and flower frost tolerance). Our results indicated a significant but variable effect of mesoclimatic conditions in structuring genetic variation in the wild, in addition to other undetermined regional scale processes. As a proxy of gene flow potential, landscape isolation was also a likely determinant of observed patternsas opposed to, and regardless of, geographic distance between populations. We conclude that harnessing proxies of adaptive and nonadaptive evolutionary processes could provide a robust and valuable means to identify genetic variation in CWRs. We thus advocate wider use and development of this approach amongst researchers, breeders and practitioners, to expedite the capture and in situ conservation of genetic resources provided by crop wild relatives.


adaptation; ecogeographic survey; flower frost tolerance; GIS; quantitative traits; rewilding; spatial genetic variation; wild strawberry

Published in

Evolutionary applications
2018, Volume: 11, number: 8, pages: 1293-1304
Publisher: WILEY