Hidden in wild sweet potatoes, strawberries and other “crop wild relatives” are keys to drought tolerance, disease resistance and other desirable traits. Over the past few decades, research efforts to collect the genetic information from these species has increased. However, developing effective partnerships between scientists, private landowners and government entities is crucial to the success of this research.  

The “Conserving Crop Wild Relatives” symposium planned at the Synergy in Science ASA, CSSA, SSSA International Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN, will address this important topic. The symposium will be held Monday, November 16, 2015. The meeting is sponsored by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America.

According to symposium organizer Stephanie Greene, “scientists understand that it's important to conserve [crop wild relatives], and now the focus is ‘how best can we do this?’ Wild crops are frequently found on public lands. The land managers have their own priorities and way of doing things. Identifying objectives, and finding common ground helps to form effective partnerships.” Greene is a scientist with the USDA-ARS.

Karen Williams, a botanist with the USDA-ARS, is working on the conservation of wild cranberries in the US. Large and small wild cranberries are found on several National Forests managed by the USDA Forest Service (USFS); Williams has been coordinating collaboration between the ARS, the USFS, and the University of Wisconsin on the research. “In the future we hope to expand the study to populations outside the National Forest System to capture broader genetic diversity of the wild cranberry species,” says Williams. “This approach could also be applied to the crop wild relatives of grapes, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, hops, sunflowers, pecans and other native crops.”