Ensuring food security is one of the world’s most critical issues as agricultural systems are already being impacted by global change. Crop wild relatives (CWR)—wild plants related to crops—possess genetic variability that can help adapt agriculture to a changing environment and sustainably increase crop yields to meet the food security challenge.

Here we report the results of an extinction risk assessment of 224 wild relatives of some of the world’s most important crops (i.e. chilli pepper, maize, common bean, avocado, cotton, potato, squash, vanilla and husk tomato) in Mesoamerica—an area of global significance as a centre of crop origin, domestication and of high CWR diversity.

We show that 35% of the selected CWR taxa are threatened with extinction according to The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List demonstrates that these valuable genetic resources are under high anthropogenic threat. The dominant threat processes are land use change for agriculture and farming, invasive and other problematic species (e.g. pests, genetically modified organisms) and use of biological resources, including overcollection and logging. The most significant drivers of extinction relate to smallholder agriculture—given its high incidence and ongoing shifts from traditional agriculture to modern practices (e.g. use of herbicides)—smallholder ranching and housing and urban development and introduced genetic material.

There is an urgent need to increase knowledge and research around different aspects of CWR. Policies that support in situ and ex situ conservation of CWR and promote sustainable agriculture are pivotal to secure these resources for the benefit of current and future generations.

Goettsch, Bárbara; Urquiza-Haas, Tania; Koleff, Patricia; Acevedo Gasman, Francisca; Aguilar-Meléndez, Araceli; Alavez, Valeria; Alejandre-Iturbide, Gabriel; Aragón Cuevas, Flavio; Azurdia Pérez, César; Carr, Jamie A.; Castellanos-Morales, Gabriela; Cerén, Gabriel; Contreras-Toledo, Aremi R.; Correa-Cano, María Eugenia; De la Cruz Larios, Lino; Debouck, Daniel G.; Delgado-Salinas, Alfonso; Gómez-Ruiz, Emma P.; González-Ledesma, Manuel; González-Pérez, Enrique; Hernández-Apolinar, Mariana; Herrera-Cabrera, Braulio E; Jefferson, Megan; Kell, Shelagh; Lira-Saade, Rafael; Lorea-Hernández, Francisco; Martínez, Mahinda; Mastretta-Yanes, Alicia; Maxted, Nigel; Menjívar, Jenny; Mérida Guzmán, María de los Ángeles; Morales Herrera, Aura J.; Oliveros-Galindo, Oswaldo; Orjuela-R., M. Andrea; Pollock, Caroline M.; Quintana-Camargo, Martín; Rodríguez, Aarón; Ruiz Corral, José Ariel; Sánchez González, José de Jesús; Sánchez-de la Vega, Guillermo; Superina, Mariella; Tobón Niedfeldt, Wolke; Tognelli, Marcelo F.; Vargas-Ponce, Ofelia; Vega, Melania; Wegier, Ana; Zamora Tavares, Pilar; Jenkins, Richard K.B.

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