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Integration of ethnobotany and population genetics uncovers the agrobiodiversity of date palms of Siwa Oasis (Egypt) and their importance to the evolutionary history of the species

  • Gros-Balthazar, M.
  • Battesti, V.
  • Ivorra, S.
  • Paradis, L.
  • Aberlenc, Frédérique
  • Zango, O.
  • Zehdi, S.
  • Moussouni, S.
  • Abbas Naqvi, S.
  • Newton, C.
  • Terral, J.F.
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2019
Horizon Pleins textes
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Crop diversity is shaped by biological and social processes interacting at different spatiotemporal scales. Here we combined population genetics and ethnobotany to investigate date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) diversity in Siwa Oasis, Egypt. Based on interviews with farmers and observation of practices in the field, we collected 149 date palms from Siwa Oasis and 27 uncultivated date palms from abandoned oases in the surrounding desert. Using genotyping data from 18 nuclear and plastid microsatellite loci, we confirmed that some named types each constitute a clonal line, i.e. a true-to-type cultivar. We also found that others are collections of clonal lines, i.e. ethnovarieties, or even unrelated samples, i.e. local categories. This alters current assessments of agrobiodiversity, which are visibly underestimated, and uncovers the impact of low-intensity, but highly effective, farming practices on biodiversity. These hardly observable practices, hypothesized by ethnographic survey and confirmed by genetic analysis, are enabled by the way Isiwans conceive and classify living beings in their oasis, which do not quite match the way biologists do: a classic disparity of etic vs. emic categorizations. In addition, we established that Siwa date palms represent a unique and highly diverse genetic cluster, rather than a subset of North African and Middle Eastern palm diversity. As previously shown, North African date palms display evidence of introgression by the wild relative Phoenix theophrasti, and we found that the uncultivated date palms from the abandoned oases share even more alleles with this species than cultivated palms in this region. The study of Siwa date palms could hence be a key to the understanding of date palm diversification in North Africa. Integration of ethnography and population genetics promoted the understanding of the interplay between diversity management in the oasis (short-time scale), and the origins and dynamic of diversity through domestication and diversification (long-time scale).

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