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, 8 (5), e64146

Global Ex-Situ Crop Diversity Conservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Assessing the Current Status


Global Ex-Situ Crop Diversity Conservation and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault: Assessing the Current Status

Ola T Westengen et al. PLoS One.


Ex-situ conservation of crop diversity is a global concern, and the development of an efficient and sustainable conservation system is a historic priority recognized in international law and policy. We assess the completeness of the safety duplication collection in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault with respect to data on the world's ex-situ collections as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Currently, 774,601 samples are deposited at Svalbard by 53 genebanks. We estimate that more than one third of the globally distinct accessions of 156 crop genera stored in genebanks as orthodox seeds are conserved in the Seed Vault. The numbers of safety duplicates of Triticum (wheat), Sorghum (sorghum), Pennisetum (pearl millet), Eleusine (finger millet), Cicer (chickpea) and Lens (lentil) exceed 50% of the estimated numbers of distinct accessions in global ex-situ collections. The number of accessions conserved globally generally reflects importance for food production, but there are significant gaps in the safety collection at Svalbard in some genera of high importance for food security in tropical countries, such as Amaranthus (amaranth), Chenopodium (quinoa), Eragrostis (teff) and Abelmoschus (okra). In the 29 food-crop genera with the largest number of accessions stored globally, an average of 5.5 out of the ten largest collections is already represented in the Seed Vault collection or is covered by existing deposit agreements. The high coverage of ITPGRFA Annex 1 crops and of those crops for which there is a CGIAR mandate in the current Seed Vault collection indicates that existence of international policies and institutions are important determinants for accessions to be safety duplicated at Svalbard. As a back-up site for the global conservation system, the Seed Vault plays not only a practical but also a symbolic role for enhanced integration and cooperation for conservation of crop diversity.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: OTW and SJ are employees of Nordic Genetic Resource Centre (NordGen). LG is an employee of The Global Crop Diversity Trust. Both NordGen and The Global Crop Diversity Trust are nonprofit organizations involved in the administration of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. This does not alter the authors‚ adherence to all the PLOS ONE policies on sharing data and materials.


Figure 1
Figure 1. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
The exterior and interior of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Printed under a CC BY license, with permission from Photographer Mari Tefre.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Genebanks with safety deposits in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.
The radius of the circles is relative to the number of samples deposited, and the circle size reflects the size of the deposits according to 25 size classes. Yellow circles are International Agricultural Research Centers, and green circles are regional, national or subnational genebanks. The radius of the red SGSV circle is not relative to the holdings.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Crop group representation.
All genera with more than 1000 accessions reported in the WIEWS database of the FAO and in the safety back-up collection in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.

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Grant support

The authors have no support or funding to report.