Department of Plant Genetic Resources, Institute of Botany, Ilia State University, Tbilisi, Georgia
Georgia covers 69.700 km2 Greater and Lesser Caucasus mountain ranges located between the Black and Caspian seas. Two-thirds of the country is mountainous with an average height of 1.200 m above sea level, with the highest peaks of Mt. Shkhara (5.201 m) in the Greater Caucasus and Mt. Didi Abuli (3.301 m) in the Lesser Caucasus. The alpine zone (1800-4000 m) accounts for roughly 10% of the land and consists of treeline ecotone (1800-2500 m), alpine meadows and snowbed plant communities (2500-2900 m); and, subnival vegetation with margin of plant life from sea level at 4000 m. The permanent settlements are located up to 2150 m and many agricultural landraces: wheat, barley, rye, oat, legumes, vegetables and herbs are cultivated in the alpine zone adapted to high mountain environmental conditions. Therefore, it is of interest to evaluate crop wild relatives (CWRs), which are closely related genetically to landraces and might be their progenitor species. In alpine zone are CWRs of cereals - Aegilops, Avena, Hordeum, Panicum, Secale, Setaria; and, legumes - Cicer, Lathyrus, Lens, Pisum, Vicia, etc.; representing the first and second gene pool species, which are the wild or weedy forms of the crops and the coenospecies from which gene transfer to the crop is possible. Alpine pastures and hay meadows are very rich in forage plant species. A lot of medicinal plants are growing from treeline ecotone to the subnival belt. Many edible, decorative and economic plant species are collected by the local population. High endemism is evaluated among CWRs in Georgia. The natural populations of many species of CWRs are increasingly at risk. The primary causes of diversity loss of wild plant species are habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. Climate change is having significant impacts of species distributions and survival in a concrete habitat. One of the most important threats to the diversity of CWRs are genetic erosion and pollution. Most threats to biodiversity are the results of human actions, which are expressed in the overuse of natural resources for fuel, fodder, manure, grazing and collecting of ornamental and medicinal plants. The in situ protection measures are not easy to implement and, thus, the accent should be directed on ex situ conservation. The national plans of CWRs conservation has gaps and problem is that many species of important CWR occur in centres of plant diversity located mainly in developing countries, such as Georgia, which often lack resources to invest in the necessary conservation activities.