As apples blossom in the UK their wild ancestors face extinction

Many of the world’s fruit and nut trees are seriously threatened with extinction, according to the newly released Red List of Trees of Central Asia. The listis published by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) in collaboration with Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) as part of the Global Trees Campaign.

The new report identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as globally threatened with extinction.

Many of these species occur in the unique fruit and nut forests of Central Asia – an estimated 90% of which have been destroyed in the past 50 years.

The Central Asian fruit and nut forests have been described as a biological Eden and have long held an important role in human culture. It is believed that many of the domesticated fruit and nut trees we use today originated from these wild varieties.

For example, domestic apples are now known to be derived from the wild species Malus sieversii, which is native to Central Asia and is identified as threatened in the report.

Owing to the often fragmented, mountainous geography of the landscape, these wild apple, plum, cherry, apricot, walnut and other plant species display exceptionally high genetic diversity, which could prove vital in the development of new disease-resistant or climate-tolerant fruit varieties.

This could be of huge importance to future food security as the global climate changes.

FFI is already working with local communities in Kyrgyzstan to protect the country’s fruit and nut forests. We are also focusing on one of the most highly threatened apple species identified in the report, the Niedzwetsky apple, as part of the Global Trees Campaign.

The Red List of Trees of Central Asia is available to download from the Global Trees Campaign website – a Russian version is also available.