The Ecologist October 1970: Genetic backlash for biodiversity

Forty years ago this month the plant geneticists Sir Otto Frankel, W.K. Agble, J.R. Harlan and Erna Bennett warned the world about biodiversity loss. Today 22 per cent of the Earth's plants face extinction

As the world prepares to set the 2020 target at the United Nations Biodiversity Summit at Nagoya, Japan, it seems that previous conservation efforts have failed as none of the signatories to the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity met the 2010 target.

The discussions some forty years ago in The Ecologist on the inevitable destruction of diversity due to agriculture, and the transportation of non-native species - such as palm trees used in the production of palm oil from Africa to the Far East - is still a widespread problem.

Bennett argued: ‘The seemingly inexhaustible range of genetic variation stored in primitive crops and in primaeval forests is fast disappearing due to the extensive spread of high-producing crop varieties.’

The report involved issues that experts are still warning about forty years later, namely the uniformity of genetic plant variation and the loss of the gene centre of many African and Eastern crops.

Frankel pointed out: ‘The immediate need is to salvage gravely threatened gene resources and to co-operate in devising storage facilities for conservation purposes. This is something that cannot wait.’

Kew's Millennium Seed Bank was established in 2000 to house at-risk seeds but the latest statistics on biodiversity loss suggest that more needs to be done to protect depleting gene sources.

It isn’t all doom and gloom though as the ‘Sampled Red List Index’ (SRLI) was established this month to try and monitor and control threatened plant species.

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