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Pearl millet genomic vulnerability to climate change in West Africa highlights the need for regional collaboration

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ABSTRACT

Climate change is already affecting agro-ecosystems and threatening food security by reducing crop productivity and increasing harvest uncertainty. Mobilizing crop diversity could be an efficient way to mitigate its impact. We test this hypothesis in pearl millet, a nutritious staple cereal cultivated in arid and low-fertility soils in sub-Saharan Africa. We analyze the genomic diversity of 173 landraces collected in West Africa together with an extensive climate dataset composed of metrics of agronomic importance. Mapping the pearl millet genomic vulnerability at the 2050 horizon based on the current genomic-climate relationships, we identify the northern edge of the current areas of cultivation of both early and late flowering varieties as being the most vulnerable to climate change. We predict that the most vulnerable areas will benefit from using landraces that already grow in equivalent climate conditions today. However, such seed-exchange scenarios will require long distance and trans-frontier assisted migrations. Leveraging genetic diversity as a climate mitigation strategy in West Africa will thus require regional collaboration.