• AFLP;
  • cassava;
  • domestication;
  • genetic variability;
  • Manihot;
  • traditional farming

Despite the urgent need to conserve domesticated plant genetic resources, and developing ‘on farm’ strategies of conservation, the impact of traditional farming practices and of their interaction with ecological factors on the structure and evolutionary dynamics of the genetic variability of crop populations has been little documented. We assessed the genetic variability of 31 varieties of cassava (M. esculenta Crantz) traditionally grown by Makushi Amerindians from Guyana, using AFLP markers. We used a sample of 38 varieties from an ex situ core collection as a reference. Accessions of wild cassava were also included. While clonality of the varieties was expected due to the vegetative propagation of cassava, 21 varieties presented intravarietal polymorphism. Among the varieties from a single site in Guyana, genetic diversity was the same as that in the accessions from the core collection. We suggest that incorporation of volunteer seedlings, produced by sexual reproduction, into the stock of varieties grown by the Makushi plays a major role in explaining both intravarietal polymorphism and the high level of genetic diversity. No correspondence was found between the structure of molecular diversity and variation observed for agronomic traits that are targets for selection by cultivators. As found in previous studies, all wild forms of cassava clustered together and separately from the cultivated varieties in a Neighbour-Joining dendrogram. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of a limited domestication event in a restricted area, followed by rapid diffusion of cultivated phenotypes and convergent evolution. Our results show that local varieties are an important source of genetic diversity, and highlight the importance of the interaction between human and ecological factors in the dynamics of this diversity.