Limited evolutionary divergence of seedlings after the domestication of plant species

Authors

  • R. Milla,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departamento de Biología y Geología, Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Móstoles, Spain
    • Correspondence

      R. Milla, Departamento de Biología y Geología, Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, c/Tulipán s/n, Móstoles 28933, Spain.

      E-mail: ruben.milla@gmail.com

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  • J. Morente-López

    1. Departamento de Biología y Geología, Área de Biodiversidad y Conservación, Escuela Superior de Ciencias Experimentales y Tecnología, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Móstoles, Spain
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Abstract

The most vulnerable stage in the life of plants is the seedling. The transition from wild to agricultural land that plants experienced during and after domestication implied a noticeable change in the seedlings′ environment. Building on current knowledge of seedling ecology, and on previous studies of cassava, we hypothesise that cultivation should have promoted epigeal germination of seedlings, and more exposed and photosynthetic cotyledons. To test this hypothesis, we phenotyped seedling morpho-functional traits in a set of domesticated and wild progenitor accessions of 20 Eudicot herbaceous crop species. Qualitative traits like epi- versus hypogeal germination, leafy versus storage type of cotyledons, or crypto- versus phanerocotyledonar germination, remained conserved during the domestication of all 20 species. Lengths of hypocotyls and epicotyls, of cotyledon petioles, and indices of cotyledon exposure to the aboveground environment changed during evolution under cultivation. However, those changes occurred in diverse directions, depending on the crop species. No common seedling phenotypic convergence in response to domestication was thus detected among the group of species studied here. Also, none of the 20 crops evolved in accordance with our initial hypothesis. Our results reject the idea that strong selective filters exerted unconsciously by artificial selection should have resulted in generalised channelling of seedling morphology towards more productive and more herbivore risky phenotypes. This result opens up unexplored opportunities for directional breeding of seedling traits.

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