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Investigating crop origins is a priority to understand the evolution of plants under domestication, develop strategies for conservation and valorization of agrobiodiversity and acquire fundamental knowledge for cultivar improvement. The date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) belongs to the genus Phoenix, which comprises 14 species morphologically very close, sometimes hardly distinguishable. It has been cultivated for millennia in the Middle East and in North Africa and constitutes the keystone of oasis agriculture. Yet, its origins remain poorly understood as no wild populations are identified. Uncultivated populations have been described but they might represent feral, i.e. formerly cultivated, abandoned forms rather than truly wild populations. In this context, this study based on morphometrics applied to 1625 Phoenix seeds aims to (1) differentiate Phoenix species and (2) depict the domestication syndrome observed in cultivated date palm seeds using other Phoenix species as a “wild” reference. This will help discriminate truly wild from feral forms, thus providing new insights into the evolutionary history of this species. Seed size was evaluated using four parameters: length, width, thickness and dorsal view surface. Seed shape was quantified using outline analyses based on the Elliptic Fourier Transform method. The size and shape of seeds allowed an accurate differentiation of Phoenix species. The cultivated date palm shows distinctive size and shape features, compared to other Phoenix species: seeds are longer and elongated. This morphological shift may be interpreted as a domestication syndrome, resulting from the long-term history of cultivation, selection and human-mediated dispersion. Based on seed attributes, some uncultivated date palms from Oman may be identified as wild. This opens new prospects regarding the possible existence and characterization of relict wild populations and consequently for the understanding of the date palm origins. Finally, we here describe a pipeline for the identification of the domestication syndrome in seeds that could be used in other crops.
Category: Conservation
Authors: Gros-Balthazard, M., et al.
Journal/Series: PloS One
Publication Year: 2018

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