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New Zealand Scientists Help Save China's Kiwifruit

The ancestral home of modern kiwifruit is threatened by hydroelectricity projects underway on China's Yangtze River. HortResearch are working alongside Chinese researchers, collecting and preserving wild kiwifruit from the affected area.

The Yangtze River, which flows through the Three Gorges region of Sichuan, is being dammed for use as a massive power source and to prevent flooding. Once the project is complete the water level will rise by about 55m covering large tracts of land including cities and villages. As millions of people move to higher ground and resettle, they pose a threat to the wild kiwifruit which grow there.

HortResearch scientists Russell Lowe and Canhong Cheng teamed up with researchers from the Sichuan Provincial Natural Resources Research Institute last year and collected a large number of samples from nine wild kiwifruit species. Mr Lowe said he was "delighted" with the material he came across in the month-long expedition.

HortResearch is one of few foreign organisations permitted to help conserve some of China's native plants. The project started with a surveying trip in 1999. Another collecting expedition is planned for later in the year and ongoing collaboration is likely. When all the collecting is completed, Mr Lowe hopes many of the 60 known species of kiwifruit will be established in orchards throughout China.

While the impetus for the project was conservation, Mr Lowe said there are additional long-term benefits as well. "The new collection will increase the diversity of the world's known kiwifruit germplasm. So if new pests and diseases plague commercially grown kiwifruit varieties in the future, these related plants may offer resistance."

Some of the collection areas were so remote that Mr Lowe was the first European locals had seen. "Often a crowd gathered to come and see the 'big nose' - this is a colloquial term for Europeans because we have more prominent noses than Chinese."

The isolation of Sichuan made for complicated logistics when collecting the kiwifruit. Special permits were needed and at times a police guard accompanied the team for safety.

As many of the local residents eat the wild kiwifruit, Mr Lowe said they often brought samples to the survey party. "Timing was crucial. We had to arrive just before the locals harvested the fruit but not so early that the seed of the fruit were too immature to grow."


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