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Am J Bot. 2007 Sep;94(9):1479-90. doi: 10.3732/ajb.94.9.1479.

Genetic consequences of pre-Columbian cultivation for Agave murpheyi and A. delamateri (Agavaceae).

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Department of Geography, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30602 USA;


Pre-Columbian farmers cultivated several species of agave in central Arizona from ca. A.D. 600-1350. Because of the longevity and primarily asexual reproduction of these species, relict agave clones remain in the landscape and provide insights into pre-Columbian agricultural practices. We analyzed variation in allozyme allele frequencies to infer genetic effects of prehistoric cultivation on Agave murpheyi and A. delamateri, specifically to estimate genetic diversity and structure, to determine whether cultivated populations descended from a single clone, and to examine regional-scale genetic variation. Agave murpheyi maintained more genetic diversity at the species and population levels than A. delamateri, and A. murpheyi populations typically included more multilocus genotypes. Relict plants from prehistoric fields reflect a more complex history than descent from a single clone; A. murpheyi populations may have included more diversity initially because bulbils (produced routinely in A. murpheyi but not A. delamateri) and possibly seed would have facilitated transport of genetically diverse planting stock. Genetic variation in both cultigens was lower than in most contemporary commercial crops but similar to that observed in modern traditional agricultural systems.

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