Mesoamerica, where several important crops such as maize, beans, squash, chilli peppers and vanilla originated, is witnessing a decline in their wild relatives, according to a study published recently.
- The potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption.
- More than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global total crop production exceeds 300 million metric tonnes.
- Some 224 plants closely related to maize, potato, beans, squash, chilli pepper, vanilla, avocado, husk tomato and cotton were analysed by the researchers who conducted the study.
- They found that 35 percent of these wild species were threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- The wild plant groups at highest risk of extinction are Vanilla with all eight species in the region listed as ‘endangered’ or ‘critically endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- It is followed by cotton (Gossypium) — 92 per cent of its species are at risk and avocado (Persea) — 60 percent of its species are threatened. Two groups related to maize, Zea and Tripsacum, are 44 per cent and 33 per cent threatened respectively.
- Thirty-one percent of bean species, one out of four chilli pepper species, 23 per cent of potato species, 12 percent of husk tomato species and nine per cent of squash species are further threatened with extinction.
- The study noted that at least 16 wild crops included in it, had been used to breed food crops that were more resilient to the changing climate, extreme weather and other threats.
The paper, titled Extinction risk of Mesoamerican crop wild relatives, was published in the journal Plants, People, Planet.
- The reasons for the decline included
- conversion of wild habitats into farms
- the shift from traditional to mechanised agriculture
- the use of pesticides and insecticides
- Other threats include invasive species, contamination from genetically-modified crops, over-collection and logging.
- The term Mesoamerica is derived from the Greek and means "Middle America."
- It refers to a geographical and cultural area which extends from central Mexico down through Central America, including the territory which is now made up of the countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
- It is therefore seen as partly in North America, and encompassing a large part of Central America.