Ecosystems

Population genetic variability and distribution of the endangered Greek endemic Cicer graecum

In recent years, wild relatives of crop species have come under the spotlight as a potential solution to the genetic bottleneck experienced by many domesticated crops. Crop wild relatives (CWRs) have also been identified to contain traits of great importance for agriculture, particularly those related to stress tolerance. CWRs usually maintain high genetic diversity through population differentiation and local adaptation. Many natural populations of CWRs are now threatened by habitat loss and climate change. Understanding the genetic and adaptive diversity patterns across their distribution range will be crucial for ensuring their long-term survival and their effective use in plant breeding programmes. However, for wild relatives of legume crop species, such understanding is lacking as only a few species have been studied to date.

Flowering and fruiting individuals of Cicer graecum in their natural habitat. Image credits: P. Trigas.

In a newly published study in AoBP, Stathi et al. investigate the genetic diversity of five populations of Cicer graecum, an endangered wild relative of chickpea (Cicer arietinum) endemic to Northern Peloponnisos, Greece. The authors used a combination of ISSR and AFLP markers to study 97 individuals across the populations. Population genetic diversity was correlated with certain environmental variables and the realized climatic niche of C. graecum according to different climate change scenarios was modeled. The results indicated medium to high population genetic diversity, which was most strongly affected by aridity. A severe range contraction and high extinction risk for C. graecum is projected in the near future, and so the authors hope that their results will help to inform much needed in situ and ex situ conservation schemes for this valuable species.

Researcher highlight

Tani Eleni conducted her graduate and postgraduate studies at the Department of Agriculture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece specialising in plant breeding and physiology. She obtained an IKY fellowship for postdoctoral studies at Edinburgh University (Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology) working on plant breeding for biotic stress. In 2014, she was elected Lecturer of the Plant Breeding and Biometry Laboratory at the Agricultural University of Athens, Greece. 

Tani’s research interests include the molecular breeding of plants towards resistance to abiotic/biotic stresses, breeding for weed management, the study of the genetic variation of plant genetic resources and their utilization in plant breeding, as well as the utilization of epigenetics in plant breeding.

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