Background and Aims
The Tehuacán Valley in Mexico is a principal area of plant domestication in Mesoamerica. There, artificial selection is currently practised on nearly 120 native plant species with coexisting wild, silvicultural and cultivated populations, providing an excellent setting for studying ongoing mechanisms of evolution under domestication. One of these species is the columnar cactus Stenocereus pruinosus, in which we studied how artificial selection is operating through traditional management and whether it has determined morphological and genetic divergence between wild and managed populations.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 83 households of three villages to investigate motives and mechanisms of artificial selection. Management effects were studied by comparing variation patterns of 14 morphological characters and population genetics (four microsatellite loci) of 264 plants from nine wild, silvicultural and cultivated populations.
Variation in fruit characters was recognized by most people, and was the principal target of artificial selection directed to favour larger and sweeter fruits with thinner or thicker peel, fewer spines and pulp colours others than red. Artificial selection operates in agroforestry systems favouring abundance (through not felling plants and planting branches) of the preferred phenotypes, and acts more intensely in household gardens. Significant morphological divergence between wild and managed populations was observed in fruit characters and plant vigour. On average, genetic diversity in silvicultural populations (HE = 0·743) was higher than in wild (HE = 0·726) and cultivated (HE = 0·700) populations. Most of the genetic variation (90·58 %) occurred within populations. High gene flow (NmFST > 2) was identified among almost all populations studied, but was slightly limited by mountains among wild populations, and by artificial selection among wild and managed populations.
Traditional management of S. pruinosus involves artificial selection, which, despite the high levels of gene flow, has promoted morphological divergence and moderate genetic structure between wild and managed populations, while conserving genetic diversity.