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Keywords:

  • Archaeobotany;
  • artificial selection;
  • darwins;
  • haldanes;
  • natural selection

Domestication is an evolutionary process of species divergence in which morphological and physiological changes result from the cultivation/tending of plant or animal species by a mutualistic partner, most prominently humans. Darwin used domestication as an analogy to evolution by natural selection although there is strong debate on whether this process of species evolution by human association is an appropriate model for evolutionary study. There is a presumption that selection under domestication is strong and most models assume rapid evolution of cultivated species. Using archaeological data for 11 species from 60 archaeological sites, we measure rates of evolution in two plant domestication traits—nonshattering and grain/seed size increase. Contrary to previous assumptions, we find the rates of phenotypic evolution during domestication are slow, and significantly lower or comparable to those observed among wild species subjected to natural selection. Our study indicates that the magnitudes of the rates of evolution during the domestication process, including the strength of selection, may be similar to those measured for wild species. This suggests that domestication may be driven by unconscious selection pressures similar to that observed for natural selection, and the study of the domestication process may indeed prove to be a valid model for the study of evolutionary change.