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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Domestication of the neotropical tree Chrysophyllum cainito from a geographically limited yet genetically diverse gene pool in Panama

  • Author(s): Parker, Ingrid M.
  • et al.

Species in the early stages of domestication, in which wild and cultivated forms co-occur, provide important opportunities to develop and test hypotheses about the origins of crop species. Chrysophyllum cainito (Sapotaceae), the star apple or caimito, is a semidomesticated tree widely cultivated for its edible fruits; it is known to be native to the neotropics, but its precise geographic origins have not been firmly established. Here, we report results of microsatellite marker analyses supporting the hypothesis that the center of domestication for caimito was the Isthmus of Panama, a region in which few crop species are believed to have originated, despite its importance as a crossroads for the dispersal of domesticated plants between North and South America. Our data suggest that caimito was domesticated in a geographically restricted area while incorporating a diverse gene pool. These results refute the generally accepted Antillean origin of caimito, as well as alternative hypotheses that the species was domesticated independently in the two areas or over a broad geographic range including both. Human-mediated dispersal from Panama to the north and east was accompanied by strong reductions in both genotypic and phenotypic diversity. Within Panama, cultivated and wild trees show little neutral genetic divergence, in contrast to striking phenotypic differentiation in fruit and seed traits. In addition to providing a rare example of data that support the hypothesis of a narrow geographic origin on the Isthmus of Panama for a now widespread cultivated plant species, this study is one of the first investigations of the origins of an edible species of the large pantropical family Sapotaceae 

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