Traditional management affects the phenotypic diversity of fruits with economic and cultural importance in the Brazilian Savanna
BACKGROUND AND AIMS Ethnobotanical studies in Mexico have documented that Mesoamerican peoples practise systems of in situ management of wild and weedy vegetation directed to control availability of useful plants. In situ management includes let standing, encouraging growing and protection of individual plants of useful species during clearance of vegetation, which in some cases may involve artificial selection. The aim of this study was to review, complement and re-analyse information from three case studies which examined patterns of morphological, physiological and genetic effects of artificial selection in plant populations under in situ management in the region. METHODS Information on wild and in situ managed populations of the herbaceous weedy plants Anoda cristata and Crotalaria pumila, the tree Leucaena esculenta subsp. esculenta and the columnar cacti Escontria chiotilla, Polaskia chichipe and Stenocereus stellatus from Central Mexico was re-analysed. Analyses compared morphology and frequency of morphological variants, germination patterns, and population genetics parameters between wild and managed in situ populations of the species studied. Species of columnar cacti are under different management intensities and their populations, including cultivated stands of P. chichipe and S. stellatus, were also compared between species. KEY RESULTS Significant differences in morphology, germination patterns and genetic variation documented between wild, in situ managed and cultivated populations of the species studied are associated with higher frequencies of phenotypes favoured by humans in managed populations. Genetic diversity in managed populations of E. chiotilla and P. chichipe is slightly lower than in wild populations but in managed populations of S. stellatus variation was higher than in the wild. However, genetic distance between populations was generally small and influenced more by geographic distance than by management. CONCLUSIONS Artificial selection operating on in situ managed populations of the species analysed is causing incipient domestication. This process could be acting on any of the 600-700 plant species documented to be under in situ management in Mesoamerica. In situ domestication of plants could be relevant to understand early processes of domestication and current conditions of in situ conservation of plant genetic resources.