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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

DAPA publishes work on Gap Analysis in PLoS ONE

DAPA’s latest paper entitled “A Gap Analysis Methodology for Collecting Crop Genepools: a Case Study with Phaseolus Beans” has been published by PLoS ONE today. The paper is part of our gap analysis work that started in 2007 and involved colleagues at the Global Crop Diversity Trust, and the immensely valuable CIAT’s Daniel Debouck. We focussed the paper on wild beans, but preliminary results for other genepools are also available in the Gap Analysis website. Which of those seeds below do require more urgent conservation? That was the purpose of our research.




Earlier posts in this blog have depicted the importance of Agricultural Biodiversity, and there’s no doubt we need better conservation for plant genetic resources for food and agriculture. As a whole, the current ex-situ conservation system suffers from a lack of characterisation, duplication of materials, inefficiency in the transference of materials, lack of funding, lack of assessments of seed viability, and it lacks high quality and reliable data on collections. Whilst some genebanks that hold major collections do comparatively well considering their funding, there are many genebanks in that suffer from many (or all) those problems. Most of these collections are currently inaccessible to the world’s researchers. In view of that, we decided to underpin the need of a better conservation and have developed a method to prioritise and define what and where to collect.


We developed a methodology to create a list of priority sites and species for collecting. The methodology uses herbaria and genebank data to model species potential distributions and determine how much of the potential existing diversity is currently conserved ex situ (i.e. stored in a genebank). Finally, we define the potential collecting sites where future collecting missions should focus. We used the Phaseolus genepool (as holding traits for five different types of domesticated beans) as a case study, and validated the method using CIAT’s Daniel Debouck knowledge on the degree of conservation of the Phaseolus taxa.


We found that 56.5% of the taxa (we analysed 85 taxa) are not well conserved or not conserved at all. Alas, we did not have access to all existing data in every genebank in the world, but we assume that if the data is unavailable to the public (i.e. us), so is the the actual seed, therefore it’s a gap. Only 6% of the species are well conserved, most of them closely related to the domesticated species, and therefore very likely to be useful for crop breeding in the short term. Roughly speaking, wild Phaseolus species are not well conserved, and worsening that, many of the places where they are known to exist, are currently suffering from rapid land use changes. Several populations and even some species are in fact already extinct. Climate change, to not go deeper, is just one ingredient to the long list of threats to extinction.

Into the future, we are working on two basic things (1) assessing other crop genepools, and (2) getting these results to the field-level by analysing threats, landuse changes, and involving satellite imagery to identify actual places where populations can be found. In such a way, the investment in collecting would be not only well-targeted, but also as efficient as possible.

Percent of species falling into each category. NFCR: No further conservation required, LPS: low priority, MPS: medium priority, HPS: high priority.

Percent of species falling into each category. NFCR: No further conservation required, LPS: low priority, MPS: medium priority, HPS: high priority.


Potential areas for collecting Phaseolus species (the more red, the more species that can be found in a single pixel)

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