The evolutionary history of a wild–cultivated complex is the outcome of different factors, among which are the domestication of the cultivated form, its geographical and demographic expansion, as well as gene flow between natural and cultivated populations. To clarify this history for alfalfa (Medicago sativa), we adopted a phylogeographical approach based on a sample of natural and cultivated populations of the M. sativa species complex. This sample was characterized for mtDNA variation through restriction fragment length polymorphisms. Twenty-two mitotypes were identified in the whole data set (155 individuals). In the wild pool from the presumed area of origin (Near East to Central Asia), the diversity was high but the absence of geographical differentiation hinders a more precise location of the centre of domestication. Within the cultivated alfalfa, the geographical structure suggests strongly the existence of at least two independent routes of dissemination of alfalfa from its centre of origin. In particular, original mitotypes detected in some regions suggest that wild populations not sampled in this study, and located outside the presumed area of domestication, may have contributed to the diversity of the cultivated pool. Finally, analysis of the mtDNA variation shows that natural populations collected in Spain constitute an endemic wild pool now introgressed partially by cultivated alfalfa.
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