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Wild relatives and crop cultivars: detecting natural introgression and farmer selection of new genetic combinations in agroecosystems


D. I. Jarvis. E-mail:


Whether new combinations of genes that result from hybridization and introgression between wild and cultivated taxa are maintained, with the resultant development of populations with new characteristics, depends on natural selection, and in the case of crops, on human selection. While many cases of deliberate introgression of desirable traits into crop cultivars as part of breeding programmes are known, the extent and significance of natural or farmer-assisted introgression is uncertain. A range of techniques have been used to document natural hybridization and introgression of agricultural crops and their wild relatives in many crops including maize, wheat, barley, oats, pearl millet, foxtail millet, quinoa, hops, hemp, potato, cocona, casava, common bean, cowpea, pigeon pea, carrots, squash, tomato, radish, letuce, chilli, beets, sunflower, cabbage, and rasberries. However, the majority of these studies are based on morphological characters, and few have investigated the frequency with which such new types are produced and retained in natural and agroecosystems for farmer selection. Even more limited is information on the role of farmers in recognizing and selecting new genetic variation from the natural introgression of crops with their wild relatives, and the impact, once selected, of these new genetic combinations on the crop diversity. Molecular evaluation of natural introgression linked to investigations of farmer recognition and use of introgressed types provide ways of evaluating whether farmer selection for introgressed types is a significant process in increasing the genetic diversity of crop plants.