Wild fruit trees face extinction

Scientists say the wild ancestors of common domestic fruit trees are in danger of becoming extinct, the BBC reported. Citing over-exploitation and human development as among the main threats to forests, the Red List of Central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as under threat from extinction.

The forests of Central Asia are home to more than 300 wild fruit and nut species, including apple, plum, cherry, apricot and walnut. While these disease-resistant and climate-tolerant trees could play a role in future food security, according to the conservation charity Fauna & Flora International, about 90% of the forests have been destroyed in the last 50 years. 

Antonia Eastwood, the lead author of the research, described the region as a “unique global hotspot of diversity” and told BBC News: “It’s very mountainous and dry, so many of these species have a great deal of tolerance to cold and drought. A lot of our domestic fruit supply comes from a very narrow genetic base. Given the threats posed to food supplies by disease and the changing climate, we may need to go back to these species and include them in breeding programmes.” 

As part of the United Kingdom’s Darwin Initiative, Fauna & Flora International is working with scientists in Kyrgyzstan to research threatened trees and develop methods to harvest fruit sustainably. The organisation is training local scientists and involving communities in planning and managing their forests. 

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