Patterns and processes in crop domestication: an historical review and quantitative analysis of 203 global food crops


  • Rachel S. Meyer,

    1. The New York Botanical Garden, Science Division, Bronx, NY 10458, USA
    2. The Graduate Center, City University of New York, Biology Program, 365 Fifth Ave, New York, NY 10016, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Ashley E. DuVal,

    1. Yale University, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven, CT 06511, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

  • Helen R. Jensen

    1. McGill University, Department of Biology, 1205 Dr Penfield Avenue, Montreal, QC, Canada H3A 1B1
    Search for more papers by this author
    • These authors contributed equally to this work.

Author for correspondence:
Helen Jensen
Tel: +1 514 425 3540



II.Key concepts and definitions30
III.Methods of review and analysis35
IV.Trends identified from the review of 203 crops37
V.Life cycle38
VI.Ploidy level40
VII.Reproductive strategies42
VIII.The domestication syndrome42
IX.Spatial and temporal trends42
X.Utilization of plant parts44


Domesticated food crops are derived from a phylogenetically diverse assemblage of wild ancestors through artificial selection for different traits. Our understanding of domestication, however, is based upon a subset of well-studied ‘model’ crops, many of them from the Poaceae family. Here, we investigate domestication traits and theories using a broader range of crops. We reviewed domestication information (e.g. center of domestication, plant traits, wild ancestors, domestication dates, domestication traits, early and current uses) for 203 major and minor food crops. Compiled data were used to test classic and contemporary theories in crop domestication. Many typical features of domestication associated with model crops, including changes in ploidy level, loss of shattering, multiple origins, and domestication outside the native range, are less common within this broader dataset. In addition, there are strong spatial and temporal trends in our dataset. The overall time required to domesticate a species has decreased since the earliest domestication events. The frequencies of some domestication syndrome traits (e.g. nonshattering) have decreased over time, while others (e.g. changes to secondary metabolites) have increased. We discuss the influences of the ecological, evolutionary, cultural and technological factors that make domestication a dynamic and ongoing process.