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Plant Domestication and Crop Evolution in the Near East: On Events and Processes

Shahal Abbo1*, Simcha Lev-Yadun2, and Avi Gopher3


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Reconstructing the evolutionary history of crop plants is fundamental for understanding their adaptation profile and the genetic basis of yield-limiting factors, which in turn are critical for future crop improvement. A major topic in this field is the recent claim for a millennia-long 'protracted' domestication process. Here we evaluate the evidence for the protracted domestication model in light of published archaeobotanical data, experimental evidence and the biology of the Near Eastern crops and their wild progenitors. The crux of our discussion is the differentiation between events or 'domestication episodes' and the later following crop evolutionary processes under domestication (frequently termed 'crop improvement stage'), which are by definition, still ongoing. We argue that by assuming a protracted millennia-long domestication process, one needlessly opts to operate within an intellectual framework that does not allow differentiating between the decisive (critical) domestication traits and their respective loci, and those that have evolved later during the crop dissemination and improvement following the episodic domestication event. Therefore, in our view, apart from the lack of experimental evidence to support it, the protracted domestication assumption undermines the resolution power of the study of both plant domestication and crop evolution, from the cultural as well as from the biological perspectives.

Keywords conscious vs. unconscious selection, domestication episode, origin of Near Eastern agriculture

Shahal Abbo, Simcha Lev-Yadun & Avi Gopher (2012): Plant Domestication and Crop Evolution in the Near East: On Events and Processes, Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 31:3, 241-257
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1 The Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Science and Genetics in Agriculture, The Levi Eshkol School of Agriculture, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot 76100, Israel;

2 Department of Biology and Environment, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Haifa - Oranim, Tivon, 36006, Israel;

3 The Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv 69978, Israel

* Corresponding author: S. Abbo, abbo@agri.huji.ac.il

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