Collecting plant genetic diversity: Technical guidelines

Alcohol-sterilized shoot tip being placed in a vial of growth medium for transport. (Photo: V. Pence.)
Michael Way, of Kew, collecting Ephedra andina for the Millennium Seed Bank. (Photo: J. Drori/Board of Trustees, RBG Kew.)

Contact person: Elizabeth Goldberg, Bioversity, Italy


In 1995, Bioversity International, (then the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute-IPGRI), in association with FAO, IUCN and UNEP, produced “Collecting Plant Genetic Diversity; Technical Guidelines,” edited by L. Guarino, V. Ramanatha Rao and R. Reid and published by CABI.

This online resource updates the 1995 classic reference and provides two new topics. The Collecting Manual, as it came to be known, covers all the steps in collecting. CABI has generously given permission for the chapters from the original publication to be accessed online alongside the updates. Two of the original editors, L. Guarino and V. Ramanatha Rao, have led this updating activity in collaboration with Bioversity and a team of more than 40 experts from around the world.

This resource guides new and experienced collectors on how to sample, collect and preserve a wealth of genetic resources – not only crop plants and trees but also wild species, symbiotic bacteria and fungi, pollen and even DNA. It also gives advice on related topics such as ecogeographic surveys, the use of geographic information systems and other data management tools, data recording, taxonomic identification and on the legal issues involved in collecting genetic resources. In addition to synthesizing new knowledge, each chapter provides references–many of them available online–and complementary internet resources. Users are encouraged to comment or update content on forms provided.

List of updated chapters

After Vavilov: Collecting germplasm in the 21st century E. Frison

Chapter 1: A brief history of plant germplasm collecting– (1995 version)

Chapter 2: Legal issues in plant germplasm collecting
G. Moore and K.A. Williams

Chapter 3: An introduction to plant germplasm exploration and collecting: planning, methods and procedures, follow-up
J.M.M. Engels

Chapter 4: Assessing the threat of genetic erosion
P. N. Mathur

Chapter 5: Basic sampling strategies: theory and practice
J. Crossa and R. Vencovsky

Chapter 6: Strategies for the collecting of wild species
M. Parra-Quijano, J.M. Iriondo, and E. Torres Lamas

Chapter 7: Classifications of infraspecific variation in crop plants
K. Hammer and Y. Morimoto

Chapter 8: Sources of information on existing germplasm collections
E. Bettencourt

Chapter 9: Published information on the natural and human environment – (1995 version)
G.C. Auricht, R. Reid and L. Guarino

Chapter 10: Published sources of information on wild plant species
I. Thormann

Chapter 11: Aids to taxonomic identification
N. Maxted

Chapter 12: Secondary sources on cultures and indigenous knowledge systems – (1995 version)
L. Guarino

Chapter 13: Published information resources for plant germplasm collectors
M. Garruccio

Chapter 14: Ecogeographic surveys
N. P. Castañeda Álvarez, H. Vincent, S. Kell, R. Eastwood and N. Maxted

Chapters 15/16: Mapping the ecogeographic distribution of biodiversity and GIS tools for plant germplasm collectors
M. van Zonneveld, E. Thomas, G. Galluzzi, and X. Scheldeman

Chapter 17: Plant health and germplasm collectors
R. Macfarlane, G.V.H. Jackson, and E. Frison

Chapter 18: Collecting plant genetic resources and documenting associated indigenous knowledge in the field: a participatory approach
P. Quek and E. Friis-Hansen

Chapter 19: Collecting and recording data in the field: Media for data recording
M. Way

Chapter 20: Collecting and handling seeds in the field
F.R. Hay and R. J. Probert

Chapter 21: Collecting vegetatively propagated crops (especially roots and tubers)
A. Dansi

Chapter 22: Collecting vegetative material of forage grasses and legumes
J. Hanson and M. van de Wouw

Chapter 23: Collecting woody perennials
L. Schmidt

Chapter 24: Collecting in vitro for genetic resources conservation
V.C. Pence and F. Engelmann

Chapter 25: Collecting pollen for genetic resources conservation
G.M. Volk

Chapter 26: Collecting symbiotic bacteria and fungi
L. Herrmann and D. Lesueur

Chapter 27: Collecting herbarium vouchers
A.P. Davis

Chapter 28: Processing of germplasm, associated material and data
M. Mackay and A. Alercia

Chapter 29: Reporting on germplasm collecting missions – (1995 version) J.A. Toll and H. Moss

Chapter 40: Collecting DNA for conservation (NEW TOPIC)
M.C. de Vicente

Chapter 41: Gap analysis: A tool for genetic conservation (NEW TOPIC)
N. Maxted, N. P. Castañeda Álvarez, H. Vincent and J. Magos Brehm

A zip file of all the updated chapters in one folder can be downloaded here (13.9 MB).

Case studies

Chapters 30 to 39 are case studies from the 1995 Collecting Manual.

A zip file of all the case studies in one folder can be downloaded here (2.1 MB).

References and further reading

Bioversity Internatioanl 2013 [online] Bioversity collecting mission database. Available from Date accessed: 5 March 2013.

Guarino L, Ramanatha Rao V, Reid R, editors. 1995. Collecting plant genetic diversity: Technical guidelines. International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Rome, Italy; Plant Production and Protection Division, FAO, Rome, Italy; World Conservation Union (IUCN), Gland, Switzerland; CABI, Wallingford, UK. 748 pp. ISBN: 0-85198-964-0

Gyllensten U. 1984. A neglected heritage. Documentary film about plant genetic resources. Produced by Ulf Gyllensten in 1984 for the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) in cooperation with the Nordic Gene Bank. Watch the video here.

Smith RD, Dickie JB, Linington SH, Pritchard HW, Probert RJ, editors. 2003. Seed conservation: turning science into practice. London: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 1023 pp. Available online (accessed 17 October 2011):

SGRP. 2011 [online] Crop collecting missions – repository of reports. Available from Date accessed: 15 December 2011.

SGRP. 2011 [online] IBPGR/IPGRI collected sample database. Available from Date accessed: 15 December 2011.

Thormann I, Gaisberger H, Mattei F, Snook L, Arnaud E. 2012. Digitization and online availability of original collecting mission data to improve data quality and enhance the conservation and use of plant genetic resources. Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution. 59:5 635-644. DOI 10.1007/s10722-012-9804-z.


Acknowledgements: Bioversity would like to thank the following persons for their generous contributions to this 2011 update. Luigi Guarino and V. Ramanatha Rao for their role as scientific editors and peer reviewers; Elizabeth Goldberg, production manager and editor; Kathleen Sheridan, copy editor; Imke Thormann and Geert Claessens, web editors; Vanessa Alam, documentation; 40 authors from 26 organizations (see authors in chapters at links below). Bioversity provides a very special thanks to CABI for generously allowing the original chapters to be accessed online, together with the update on this portal.

Citation to this web page

Guarino L, Ramanatha Rao V, Goldberg E, editors. 2011. Collecting Plant Genetic Diversity: Technical Guidelines – 2011 Update. Bioversity International, Rome, Italy. ISBN 978- 92-9043- 922- 6. Available online:

The Genebanks

The 11 CGIAR genebanks currently conserve 730,000 of cereals and grain legumes, forage crops, tree species, root and tuber crops, bananas and crop wild relatives.