FDA project results: Fruit Tree Genetic Diversity in Central Asia

Published on 08/03/2018

Within the framework of its activities in Environmental Research and Innovation (ERIN), the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST) and its partners: Bioversity International CGIAR Research Centre (Rome, Italy), the Republican Research and Production Center of Ornamental Gardening and Forestry (Uzbekistan), the Institute of Horticulture - Tajik Academy of Agricultural Sciences (Tadjikistan), and Kyrgyz National Agrarian University (Kyrgyzstan) recently presented the results of the FDA "Fruit Tree Genetic Diversity in Central Asia" project.

Central Asia is the centre of origin and diversity for many fruit and nut species of global importance, which are under serious threat from global factors, such as climate change, and factors associated with rural poverty such as livestock grazing pressure. 

The aim of FDA was to explore the potential of three fruit species, apple, apricot, and walnut, that originate and are grown in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Within the ERIN department, fruit populations were characterized from a genetic and nutritional point of view using a combination of molecular and chemistry technologies.


The results of the work carried out over the 6 years of the project (2012 – 2017) revealed high levels of genetic diversity for all species as well as high threat levels. Clear barriers to gene flow are apparent between populations of all species. Large genetic and nutritional differences were evidenced among the three countries (Figure 1), stressing an important gene pool to exploit and preserve for future generations.

The researchers also found out that overgrazing is a serious and growing problem related to the poverty of rural communities, that affects walnut and apple genetic diversity. 

Furthermore, spatial analyses using climate models and potential distribution of the three species indicate that apple and apricot are more sensitive to the impact of climate change than walnut, which seems likely to be less influenced by warming temperatures in the near future. All three species are negatively affected by winter thaws followed by hard frosts which are likely to increase with changing climate. 


Figure 1 – Genetic diversity in terms of allelic richness of walnut populations in the three countries. Red indicates the highest diversity and blue the lowest. Credit: Bioversity International/LIST (H.Gaisberger/S.Legay). 


Collaborations with national research partners, including training a PhD student from each country, through training sessions at different levels ranging from high-tech molecular analysis to grafting walnuts in the communities have been organized. 

The ‘Model Forest Farms’ was developed in two of the three countries to provide ongoing examples of management and conservation practices that will reduce the impacts of threats while securing long-term livelihood benefits. 

In Kyrgyzstan the Model Forest Farm has been invited to apply for membership in the International Model Forest Network and Turkey is providing advice and assistance in working towards that goal. This would significantly increase the potential to model sustainable management and conservation practices for the region and for the influence to continue to grow well beyond the life of the current project. 

Finally, communication products have been created to target different audiences as well, ranging from a special issue of a local newspaper, describing the project and the aims of a Model Forest Farm, and a catalogue of local forms of walnut to allow farmers to improve their choices of planting material for gardens and orchards, to peer-reviewed scientific articles

Generally, the project FDA improved the management of globally important fruit and nut tree species in Central Asia while securing long-term livelihood options for rural women and men and safeguard commercially valuable resources.

For any additional information, please do not hesitate to visit the FDA project page or contact the project manager at LIST, Christelle André by email.

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Dr Christelle ANDRÉ
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