Missing domesticated plant forms: can artificial selection fill the gap?

By David Van Tassel, Lee R. DeHaan, Thomas S. Cox, in Scientific Publications - April 2, 2010

Evolutionary Applications, doi:10.1111/j.1752-4571.2010.00132.x.

Perennial grain crops do not exist because they could not have evolved under the original set of conditions; however, they can be deliberately developed today through artificial phenotypic and genotypic selection.

Abstract

In the course of their evolution, the angiosperms have radiated into most known plant forms and life histories. Their adaptation to a recently created habitat, the crop field, produced a novel form: the plant that allocates an unprecedented 30–60% of its net productivity to sexual structures. Long-lived trees, shrubs and vines of this form evolved, as did annual herbs. Perennial herb forms with increased allocation to asexual reproduction evolved, but there are no examples of perennial herbs with high sexual effort. We suggest that sowing seed into annually tilled fields favored shorter-lived herbs because of trade-offs between first-year seed production and relative growth rate and/or persistence. By propagating cuttings, people quickly domesticated tuber crops and large woody plants. Perennial herbs were too small to be efficiently propagated by cuttings, and the association between longevity, allogamy and genetic load made rapid domestication by sexual cycles unlikely. Perennial grain crops do not exist because they could not have evolved under the original set of conditions; however, they can be deliberately developed today through artificial phenotypic and genotypic selection.

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