• Allozymic polymorphism;
  • spatial pattern;
  • Near East Fertile Crescent;
  • Hordeum spontaneum;
  • wild barley

Genetic diversity and structure of populations of the wild progenitor of barley, Hordeum spontaneum, from three countries, Israel, Turkey and Iran, in the Near East Fertile Crescent, are compared and contrasted. The analysis is based on electrophoretically discernible allozymic variation in proteins encoded by 27 shared loci in 2125 individuals representing 52 populations of wild barley. The results indicate that: (a) H. spontaneum in the Near East Fertile Crescent is very variable genetically; (b) genetic differentiation of populations includes some clinal but primarily regional and local patterns often displaying sharp geographic differentiation over short distances; (c) the average relative genetic differentiation (Gst) was 54% within populations, 39% among populations, and 8% between the three countries; (d) allele distribution is characterized by a high proportion of unique alleles (51%), and a high proportion of common alleles that are distributed either locally or sporadically; (e) discriminant analysis by allele frequencies successfully clustered wild barley of each of the three countries (96% correct classification); (f) a substantial portion of the patterns of allozyme variation in the wild gene pool is significantly correlated with the environment and is predictable ecologically, chiefly by a combination of humidity and temperature variables; (g) natural populations of wild barley are, on the average, more variable than two composite crosses and land races of cultivated barley. The spatial patterns and environmental correlates and predictors of genetic variation of H, spontaneum in the Fertile Crescent indicate that genetic variation in wild barley populations is not only rich but at least partly adaptive and predictable by ecology and allozyme markers. Consequently, conservation and utilization programmes should optimize sampling strategies by following the ecological-genetic factors and allozyme markers as effectively predictive guidelines.