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Floating, Boating and Introgression: Molecular Techniques and the Ancestry of Coconut Palm Populations on Pacific Islands

Ethnobotany Research and Applications
Botanical Research Institute of Texas
Publication Date
  • Medicine


It has previously been suggested that the coconut populations of Pacific islands arose by introgression between wild types that disseminated by floating from an ancestral center of origin and domestic types that were brought in small boats from a center of domestication. This simplistic model is complicated by the subsequent movement of the introgressed germ plasm in large boats, particularly following the industrialization of coconut growing for copra in the late 19th century. Although copra is no longer an attractive article of trade, the coconut palm continues to be an attractive eco-amenity for the tourist industry. The occurrence of epidemic lethal diseases in previously important copra producing areas, and the increasing opportunity for pathogens and vectors to be transmitted by innocent tourists and uninformed landscape developers is a potential threat to coconuts and other palm species. It has also been suggested that disease resistance arose during domestication. If that is so, then the ability to use molecular techniques to characterize coconut varieties will help accelerate selection, which presently can only be based on survival in long-term field exposure trials.

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