The latest Nature has a paper on mapping endangered animal species in a couple of different groups and relating what might be called “extinction threat hotspots” to “biodiversity hotspots.” The paper is getting a lot of media attention, for example here and here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the two types of hotspots do not match up, so a focus solely on protecting biodiversity in the well-known global hotspots is perhaps not going to be as effective as one might wish. No word on whether someone is doing similar work on plants, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the results were to turn out similar. But what about crops? I can think up theoretical arguments why centres of genetic diversity of crops might also be at particular risk from genetic erosion, but as for empirical data the problem is that information on genetic erosion tends to be anecdotal and patchy.
There’s a lot of talk about biofuels these days, but perhaps not much on how growing biofuel crops might actually benefit poor people. So here’s an interesting story from India about how private firms are paying villagers to plant jatropha – traditionally the fruits were collected from the wild, placed on bamboo spikes and burned for light.
According to this article, the number of date palms in Morocco has declined from 15 million at the end of the 19th century to 4.5 million now, mainly due to desertification. That has to have had some effect on genetic diversity, and I’m willing to bet there are data out there on the numbers of varieties at different times in the past.
A somewhat sketchy article in The China Post lists 12 plants that “can remove heavy metals from polluted farmland”. This has been a recurring theme for ages, but is still worth noting in case anyone can make use of the information. Officials have high hopes that “if the research proves successful in using the flowering plants and the biomass energy crops to remove pollution from farmland, it will not only able to help raise farmers’ incomes, but also encourage the reuse of polluted farmland, promote agricultural transformation and save water resources”.
The Indian Express reports on a three-day jamboree, “Biodiversity : Showcasing West Bengal 2006”. Highly commendable, of course, but not one mention of any species important to agriculture. Sure rhododendrons and fishes are interesting. But some mention of perhaps tea or rice might not have gone amiss.