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Could taxonomic misnaming threaten the ex situ conservation and the usage of plant genetic resources?

A Correction to this article was published on 12 February 2018

This article has been updated


Ex situ conservation of plant germplasm, especially seed banking, is a favourable and widely used method for the conservation of plant genetic resources (PGR). The long-term conservation of these resources is fundamental for food security and plant breeding in order to stem the losses in agrobiodiversity and to meet the global challenges that agriculture is facing. The conservation and accessibility of PGR relies on their correct taxonomic labelling and on the building of a searchable database that links ex situ collections together. In the current study, we analysed the impact of taxonomic misnaming in the two major PGR databases (Genesys PGR, EURISCO), listing accessions conserved worldwide. The aim was to understand if taxonomic misnaming issues prevent PGR conservation. We chose as a case-study seed collections of accessions of the genus Citrullus (watermelon genepool), the taxonomy and nomenclature of which have been largely revised in recent times. We observed that taxonomic misnaming greatly limits PGR conservation with only 3% of the accessions listed in the databases correctly named; moreover, 28% were affected by taxonomic errors that prevent the establishment of the accessions’ taxonomic identity, with consequences on their conservation and exploitation. The existence of the problem was also confirmed by the experimental propagation of three misnamed accessions. We suggest herein a series of actions that, put in place, could solve the extant misnaming issues in the databases and prevent their reoccurrence, allowing the correct conservation and the usability by the stakeholders of all the accessions.

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Fig. 1
Fig. 2

Change history

  • 12 February 2018

    In the original publication of this article, some letters within the caption of Fig. 1 were misplaced. The three illustrated accessions are represented in the composite figure by two images (fruits and foliage), each one identified by means of letters. In the original caption, only one letter, instead of two, is indicated for each accession. The correct version of the caption is provided below.


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The authors are grateful to Robert Jarrett (USDA, U.S.A), Irina Gashkova (Vavilov Institute of Plant Industry, Russian Federation), and the Millennium Seed Bank of the Royal Botanic Garden (U.K.) for donating the seed accessions. We are also thankful to Massimo Schiavi (CREA-ORL, Italy) for performing the cultivation in purity. We also thank Thomas Abeli and Valentino Ottobrino (University of Pavia, Italy) for taking pictures of the fruits and cultivated plants. We are also indebted to Giulia Ardenghi (Stradella, Italy) for the digital image preparation, and Jonas V. Müller (Millennium Seed Bank, U.K.) for the help in finding essential literature sources. We are thankful to Sarah Hanson (Brighton) for the linguistic check. Finally, we thank two anonymous reviewers for their extremely useful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Filippo Guzzon.

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This article belongs to the Topical Collection: Ex-situ conservation.

A correction to this article is available online at

Communicated by Daniel Sanchez Mata.

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Guzzon, F., Ardenghi, N.M.G. Could taxonomic misnaming threaten the ex situ conservation and the usage of plant genetic resources?. Biodivers Conserv 27, 1157–1172 (2018).

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  • Botanical nomenclature
  • Database
  • Genebank
  • Seed conservation
  • Taxonomy
  • Watermelon