• Open Access

Crops gone wild: evolution of weeds and invasives from domesticated ancestors


Norman C. Ellstrand, Department of Botany & Plant Sciences and Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521, USA. Tel.: 1-951-827-4194; fax: 1-951-827-4437; e-mail: ellstrand@ucr.edu


The evolution of problematic plants, both weeds and invasives, is a topic of increasing interest. Plants that have evolved from domesticated ancestors have certain advantages for study. Because of their economic importance, domesticated plants are generally well-characterized and readily available for ecogenetic comparison with their wild descendants. Thus, the evolutionary history of crop descendants has the potential to be reconstructed in some detail. Furthermore, growing crop progenitors with their problematic descendants in a common environment allows for the identification of significant evolutionary differences that correlate with weediness or invasiveness. We sought well-established examples of invasives and weeds for which genetic and/or ethnobotanical evidence has confirmed their evolution from domesticates. We found surprisingly few cases, only 13. We examine our list for generalizations and then some selected cases to reveal how plant pests have evolved from domesticates. Despite their potential utility, crop descendants remain underexploited for evolutionary study. Promising evolutionary research opportunities for these systems are abundant and worthy of pursuit.