Native Crop Diversity in Aridoamerica: Conservation of Regional Gene Pools

Author(s): Gary Paul Nabhan
Source: Economic Botany, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1985), pp. 387-399
Published by: Springer on behalf of New York Botanical Garden Press
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Native
Crop Diversity
in Aridoamerica:
Conservation of
Regional
Gene Pools'
GARY PAUL NABHAN
2
Scholars have seldom considered the native crop diversity
in northwest Mexico
and the U.S. Southwest as resources of the same cohesive ecological and cultural
region. The term Aridoamerica is introduced to describe this overlooked center
of
plant domestication and diversification, which is distinct from centers of Meso-
america and the Mississippi Valley.
To understand
why certain
of
its landraces
are unique, the
systematic relationships and
gene-pool relations
of crops found
prehistorically and protohi storically in Aridoamerica are reviewed. Signifcant crop/
weed
introgression
continues where
indigenous agriculture persists, but native
fields
are
being rapidly abandoned or converted. In
planning
in situ and ex situ conser-
vation
efforts
to maintain this
diversity, both cultural
factors
and plant population
genetics
must be considered.
Native
crops
are defined here as domesticated
plants
cultivated
prehistorically
or
protohistorically
within a
region by
its
indigenous
cultures since
prehistoric or
protohistoric times.
Although they
need not be endemic to the
region of
concern,
their landraces should have been
grown long enough
in the
region
to exhibit
morphological
or
physiological adaptations to the soils and climates found there.
The landraces
may
in fact be
key ecological components of the distinctive
agroeco-
systems that native farmers have
developed, given
the climatic and
edaphic con-
straints in their area
(Hernandez X., 198
1). Native
crops
are
directly dependent
upon management by humans; therefore, they
have evolved in
part under the
influence of
farming practices of
particular cultures. As
such,
native
crop diversity
directly
reflects a
region's
cultural
diversity.
It is awkward to view these resources
merely
as a set of
genes
that can be
conserved
simply by depositing
them in a
gene bank. If isolated from the folk
science and traditional uses of the cultures that have nurtured
them, they lose
their historical cultural context. If isolated from cultural selection and natural
selection exerted in their endemic
agroecosystems where
they
have
long evolved,
their
subsequent evolution
may change
in direction. If removed from native fields
where
introgression
with wild relatives has continued for centuries, other
genetic
changes
will occur.
Therefore, in situ and ex situ conservation of native
crops are
much more
complex than conservation of wild
genetic resources.
In the U.S. Southwest and northwestern
Mexico, much of the land is arid.
Indigenous agriculture persists there,
in some
places beyond
where conventional
modern
agriculture
is successful. In addition to the reason
usually given
for
genetic
conservation -to
preserve for future
generations genes
that
may
make commercial
IReceived 7
January 1985; accepted 17
May 1985. Presented at the
Symposium on
Ethnobotany
of the Greater Southwest at the Twenty-fifth Annual Meeting of the
Society for Economic
Botany,
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, 11-13 June 1984; symposium organized and chaired
by Dr. Robert A.
Bye, Jr.
2
Office of Arid Lands Studies, University of Arizona, 845 N. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85721; and
Native Seeds/SEARCH, 3950 W. New York Dr., Tucson, AZ 85745.
Economic Botany, 39(4), 1985, pp. 387-399
©
1985, by the New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY 10458
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
crop
varieties less vulnerable to stresses and maladies-there are others worth
considering
with
regard
to native
crops
of this binational
region:
1. Native
crops may
be critical to continued food
production by indigenous
cultures. This is
particularly
true for the most
marginal lands,
where such
crops
have
superior adaptations to local
peculiarities
of climate and soil
(Toledo
et
al.,
1981).
Within southwestern North
America,
certain
crop
landraces
oftepary
beans
and cushaw
squash outproduce
commercial cultivars of related
species.
These
ecotypes
tolerate low soil moisture in areas
receiving
less than 70 mm seasonal
rainfall, air
temperatures reaching
49°C and soils with
high pH,
and/or soluble
salts content as
high
as
1,800 ppm (Nabhan, 1983;
Nabhan et
al., 1985).
2. Certain
crops, though
not
necessarily high yielders, may
be
important
in
efficient utilization and conservation of
chronically
scarce resources such as water
and
nitrogen (Romney
et
al., 1978). Water,
in
particular,
is in such short
supply
that it is
subject
to
profound intra- and intercultural conflicts
(US OTA, 1984).
3. Even if introduced and
improved varieties
yield better, there
may
be non-
economic motives for
honoring
an "obsolete" native
crop's right
to exist
(Ehren-
feld, 1977).
For
example,
native
crops
and
special
foods derived from them
may
be
symbols
of cultural
identity, and,
as
such, may
reinforce an
indigenous
com-
munity's pride and
persistence (Spicer, 1971).
4. Native
crops may cumulatively provide
a different and
perhaps superior set
of nutritional resources to
indigenous communities than
may
be obtained
through
government food welfare
programs
or
through trading posts (Calloway
et
al., 1974;
Nabhan et al., 1985).
Native Americans and "Mexican-Americans"
currently
suffer from
high
incidences of diabetes and other nutrition-related diseases
(West,
1974).
It
may
be that fiber-rich foods
formerly
more
prevalent in their diets-a
diversity
of beans
(Phaseolus), mucilaginous
seeds such as chia
(Salvia),
conivari
(Hyptis)
and cacti
(Opuntia)-served
to flatten
postprandial blood sucrose curves
in the same manner that artificial insulin is used
today, thereby reducing
the side
effects of the adult-onset diabetes
syndrome (Ramos, 1980; Leeds, 1981).
Given these reasons for
conserving
native
crop resources in southwestern North
America, several
questions must be raised. What native
crops were once found
in the
region?
How are
they geographically
and
culturally distributed? Which
gene
pools are diminished and in need of intervention before further
depletion? What
combination of in situ and ex situ measures will best maintain
remaining genetic
variation?
ARIDOAMERICA: AN OVERLOOKED CENTER OF DIVERSITY
Table 1 lists the native
crops found in
indigenous communities in
just
4 states
in the U.S./Mexico borderlands:
Arizona, New
Mexico, Sonora, and Chihuahua.
As can be
seen, at least 25
plant species
in advanced
stages of domestication have
been cultivated in these states
prehistorically
or
protohistorically. There is in-
triguing
evidence that a number of additional
species were cultivated and/or
genetically
selected within the area of these states
(Table 2), but the
degree
of
their domestication remains unclear.
The
point is not that we should
inventory domesticates
state-by-state. On the
contrary,
it can be demonstrated that most of these
crops' distributions
ignore
such
political boundaries and are shared
by cultures on both sides of the current
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NABHAN: NATIVE CROP DIVERSITY
TABLE 1. DOMESTICATED PLANT SPECIES OF ARIDOAMERICA: PREHISTORIC AND HISTORIC
GEOGRAPHY.a
Meso- Miss.
Crop species
AZ NM CHIH. SON. amer. Valley
Amaranthus cruentus* 0 0
x x
0
A. hypochondriacus*
0
x x x
0
Canavalia ensiformis*
0 ®
Capsicum annuum*
x x x x
0
Chenopodium berlandieri* x?
x x
0 0
Cucurbita
ficifolia
x x x
C. mixta* 0 0
x x
0
C. moschata* 0 0
x x
0
x
C. pepo 0 0 0 x 0 0
Gossypium
hirsutum 0 0 0 0 0
x
Helianthus annuus*
x x x
0
Hordeum pusillum*
Indigofera suffruticosa
x x x
Lagenaria
siceraria 00 0 0
Nicotiana rustica 0
x x x
0 0
N. tabacum
x x x x
0
Panicum sonorum* 0
x 0
Phaseolus acutifolius*
0 0
x 0 0
P. coccineus*
x x
0
P. lunatus* 0 0
x x
0
P. polyanthus*
x 0
P.
vulgaris*
0 0
x
0 0
Physalis philadelphica*
x x
0
Proboscidea parviflora*
x
Zea mays* 0 0 0 0 0 0
a
Data derived from numerous published and unpublished records, available on request. Prehistoric period, indicated by a circle,
refers to archaeological records predating 1492. Protohistoric period, indicated by an x, refers to archaeological and contact-time written
documents, primarily from Jesuits or early explorers in Aridoamerica, postdating 1492. An asterisk behind the crop species binomial
indicates that
conspecific
or cross-compatible congeneric wild plants are found within Aridoamerica.
international border. Of course,
no such border existed
prehistorically.
Its recent
presence
has
hardly
affected the distribution of native crops
or of
vegetation types
within which their wild relatives are found
(Fig. 1-3, based on
vegetation types
of Rzedowski, 1978).
This point
is belabored because most treatments of
crop geography
have in fact
stopped
at or near this border! At best, they
consider the U.S. Southwest's farming
traditions to be a crop
and technology complex
that invaded this
"marginal
agricultural
area" as a
package
from Mesoamerica (Woodbury
and Zubrow, 1979).
George
Carter's (1945)
classic Plant
Geography
and Culture
History
in the Amer-
ican Southwest dealt
only
with the U.S. Southwest, plus
some 250 km2 of the
Colorado River Delta in northwestern Mexico. Subsequent updates
or summaries
of distributions of native crop complexes by
Winter (1974)
and Ford
(1981)
have
again
dealt only
with those tribes that are distributed north of the International
Boundary.
Dressler
(1953)
and others,
in a similar manner, have dealt
only
with
pre-Columbian
cultivated plants
of Mexico.
Such limited views obscure the fact that this binational region
is the hearth of
endemic domesticates such as Panicum sonorum that have been cultivated in a
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
TABLE 2. ADDITIONAL PLANT SPECIES THAT MAY HAVE BEEN CULTIVATED AND/OR CULTURALLY
SELECTED IN ARIDOAMERICA.a
Meso- Miss.
Incipient domesticate AZ NM CHIH. SON. amer.
Valley
Allium sp.
x
Agave angustifolia
x x x
A. murpheyi ®? x?
Brassica campestris
x x ?
Cleome serrulata 0
x
Dactyloctenium aegypticum
x x
Distichlis
palmeri
x x
Hyptis
suaveolens
x x
Jaltomata procumbens
x x
Nicotiana attenuata 0 ®
N.
trigonophylla
0 x
Solanum jamesii
x x
I
See footnote for Table 1.
restricted area on both sides of the border but not in Mesoamerica or in the
Mississippi Valley (Nabhan
and de Wet, 1984).
Whereas Ford
(1981)
and
Doebley
(1984)
failed to
recognize
a
truly domesticated form of this
species with
prehistoric
and historic
presence north of the
border, others
(Harlan, 1975)
have
erroneously
assigned
this
plant to a Mesoamerican
origin. Other
crops such as
tepary
beans
(Phaseolus acutifolius)
and cushaw
squash (Cucurbita mixta) may
have noncentric
origins stretching
from Guatemala to
Sonora, but have been considered
strictly
Mesoamerican in
origin (Harlan, 1975).
Most delimitations of a Mesoamerican
center of
crop origins
extend from Mexico
City
or
Durango
southward to Honduras
(Vavilov, 1951; Harlan, 1975). However, Zhukovsky (1975)
and Zeven and de
Wet
(1982)
define a Mexican and Central American
region
with northern limits
exactly
where the
present day
United States-Mexico
boundary
is situated
(Fig. 1).
It is remarkable that
crop geographers would
pretend that
plants domesticated
prehistorically
were wise
enough
to
anticipate where the Gadsden Purchase would
finally place a
political boundary
in 1849!
Notably,
the term Mesoamerica is
commonly
used in another manner
by Latin
American
geographers. It refers to a
region with climate and
vegetation that is
predominantly tropical and mesic-intermediate between xeric and
hydric
in its
access to water-that is located south of the
extratropical dry lands and
adjacent
semiarid
highlands
of North America
(Kirchhoff, 1954; West
1964).
In an excellent
but little-cited
publication that is available in both
Spanish and
English,
Dr.
Jorge
Leon
(1979)
details the distribution of Mesoamerican
crop genetic resources. Leon
notes that
anthropologists place the northern limits of Mesoamerica near the
watershed divide between the Rio Panuco and Rio
Santiago
at about 22°N, and
the southern limits at about 11°N in northeastern Costa Rica. His
map, however,
further limits the Mesoamerican center of
crop diversity
around the southern
boundaries of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Deserts
(Fig.
2).
This natural
geographic boundary
is
roughly
the southern limit of what Latin
American
geographers sometimes refer to as Aridoamerica, or as Norteamerica
Arida
(for those not
wishing
to infer that it includes the
only
arid zones in the
Americas)
(Kirchhoff, 1954). Actually, Kirchhoffs
(1954) cultural
regions
of Ar-
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NABHAN: NATIVE CROP DIVERSITY
Fig.
1. Delimitation of North American versus Central American and Mexican centers of
crop
origins as defined
by
Zeven and de Wet
(1982).
Base
map follows Rzedowski's 1978
map
of the
vegetation of Mexico, extended into the southern U.S.
idoamerica and Oasis America are combined in
my revised
concept of Aridoamer-
ica, since I see a
gradual transition in
genetic resources available within the two.
Kirchhoffs Oasis America
roughly coincides with what was
recently discussed as
the Sonoran Desert
Agricultural Region and its native
crop complex (Nabhan and
de
Wet, 1984). However, a broader binational
region
of Aridoamerica
may
be
more
geographically cohesive as a
proposed center of
diversity
for the
following
reasons:
1. It
encompasses the
major
North American deserts within which
indigenous
agriculture
shared
many
of the same
crops.
2. Certain
crops
that were
previously assigned
to the Sonoran Desert
Agricul-
tural
Region
also extend
beyond
desert environments into
adjacent semiarid and
subtropical
sierras.
Though
not arid in the true
sense,
these
upland areas share
the same
pattern
of
evapotranspiration
far
exceeding precipitation,
and their
climates are controlled
by
the same air current
patterns.
3. Certain cultural
subfamilies,
for
example,
the Sonoran branch of the southern
Uto-Aztecan
languages,
include tribes that
historically occupied lands in the So-
noran
Desert, Chihuahuan Desert
fringe,
and Sierra Madre Occidental
(Miller,
1983). Apaches, the southernmost
Athapaskans, also had a binational distribution
that extends from Great Basin to Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert
areas, and
they
formerly ranged
into the Sierra Madres as well. Yuman tribal distributions extend
from the Mohave
Desert, into the Sonoran Desert and
adjacent uplands of
Baja
California, again
on both sides of the international
boundary.
1985]
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
Fig.
2. Northern delimitation of Mesoamerican center of crop diversity and of Mesoamerican
cultures as defined
by
Leon
(1979).
His Mesoamerica extends southward to northeastern Costa Rica,
and in his written description,
Mexico's Rios Panuco and
Santiago
are northern borders.
In
short,
an Aridoamerican center of
crop diversity
is
binational, including
both
deserts and
adjacent
semiarid
uplands,
as do cultural distributions in this
region.
It extends from
roughly
the southern Great Basin in
Utah,
around 38°N,
southward
at least as far as the
Tropic
of
Cancer,
and
perhaps
farther south in the Chihuahuan
Desert,
to around 23°N. Its farthest westward reaches
prehistorically
were the
Salton Basin and Coachella
Valley
in California. It extended east to the Rio Grande
(Rio Bravo) drainage,
but farther south,
I am not sure of its eastern limits. I
hope
that the
provisional
boundaries of an Aridoamerican center of native
crop
di-
versity,
as illustrated in
Fig. 3, can be refined on the basis of criticism from
archaeologists
and
plant geographers.
Until more archaeobotanical work is ac-
complished
in northern Mexico,
the
geographic
limits of this
region's crop heritage
will remain
imprecise.
GENE POOLS OF ARIDOAMERICAN CROPS
The
genetic diversity
of
crops
within
any region may
be related to a number
of
factors,
such as:
(1)
the
antiquity
and
continuity
of
agriculture; (2) ecological
(habitat) diversity; (3)
cultural
diversity;
and
(4) introgression
of
crops with their
wild or
weedy
relatives
(Harlan, 1975). Evidence for
agriculture
in Aridoamerica
dates back to between 2000 and 1500 B.C.
(Woodbury
and Zubrow, 1979).
After
crops
and
farming technology emerged
or were introduced, they
were refined to
fit a
diversity
of local environments
(Woosley, 1980).
The diverse cultures in the
region
also applied distinct folk scientific and aesthetic criteria to
crop
varietal
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NABHAN: NATIVE CROP DIVERSITY
Fig. 3. Delimitation of Aridoamerica as defined
by geographical and cultural-agricultural factors.
I have followed the vegetational
limits of arid and semiarid zones to some extent, further limiting
this center by excluding
arid areas where there is no known
prehistoric
or
protohistoric evidence of
native agriculture. Southern and eastern boundaries will
require further refinement.
selection for
color, taste, etc.,
such that
Navajo
blue flour corn looks
remarkably
different from
Hopi
blue flour corn
grown just
a few miles
away
from it.
Intraspecific genetic
variation within each
crop species
in Aridoamerica can
also be evaluated from the
species' geographic origins
and
interbreeding
with
species
or varieties found within the
region.
Some
crops
were introduced after
being
domesticated elsewhere and have had no
gene exchange
with wild
species
in the
region.
These
culturally
allochthonous
crops
include:
Lagenaria siceraria,
the
bottlegourd; Gossypium
hirsutum var.
punctatum, cotton;
and the
tobaccos,
Nicotiana rustica, and later, Nicotiana tabacum.
There are additional allochthonous
crops that have wild relatives that
barely
enter this
region.
Limited
gene exchange
is
theoretically possible
between the wild
and domesticated taxa, but it has not been documented. Canavalia
ensiformis,
the
jack bean,
has a close wild
relative,
C. brasiliensis, in Sinaloa. The
degree
of
cross-compatibility
and distributions of these taxa are
poorly
known.
Pennington's
(1982) ethnohistory
of Eudeve
agriculture argues
that the
nearly
extinct Sonoran
tribe once cultivated a
Chenopodium species.
If
subsequent work confirms the
presence of C. berlandieri var. nuttalliae in this
region,
as in the
Mississippi Valley
and Mesoamerica
(Wilson, 1981), gene exchange
with
common, weedy
C. ber-
landieri varieties
may
have once been
possible
in Sonora.
The
interrelationships
of Cucurbita
pepo
are also not as
simple as
many
would
think. Remains of Cucurbita
pepo
in the
Ocampo Caves of
Tamaulipas dating
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
from 7000-5000 B.C.
may represent
the texana
variety,
now known to be more
widespread
than
formerly
assumed. Whether this
variety
was native to north-
eastern Mexico and the
adjacent
United States is
currently
unresolved. After other
C.
pepo
cultivated varieties were
introduced,
it
may
have
exchanged genes
with
them. Until
Hugh
Wilson and his
colleagues
have reevaluated
relationships among
these
taxa,
it will remain difficult to
interpret early C. pepo
records on the north-
eastern
fringes
of Aridoamerica.
In
published
distributions of wild
Phaseolus,
no evidence is cited for either P.
vulgaris
or P. coccineus
growing
in arid northern Mexico. Wild varieties of both
species
have now been collected on the
fringes
of the Sierra Tarahumara in Chi-
huahua.
Together
with
my colleagues
Jose
Muruaga, Barney Burns,
and Amadeo
Rea,
I have located
populations
of wild P.
vulgaris
near
Yepachic
and Balleza,
and wild P. coccineus near Balleza and
Laguna
de Babicora. These
newly
located
northern
populations
have the
potential
to
hybridize
with cultivated
populations
of
domesticates,
and the 2
species
are
cross-compatible.
In
contrast,
Phaseolus lunatus var. silvester
presently
reaches
Sinaloa,
but no
farther north.
Introgression
of wild
genes
from this taxon into domesticated limas
or sievas is
hardly
a feasible
explanation
for the
great
varietal
diversity
of lima
bean landraces found
among
the
Pima, Hopi,
and Pueblo Indians hundreds of
kilometers to the north
(Mackie, 1943).
The Puebloan cultures of the Colorado
Plateau
may
have harbored a
secondary
center of
diversity
for cultivated Phaseolus
lunatus, far from its center of
origin.
Physalis philadelphica,
the tomatillo or
miltomate, may
be the "tomato" men-
tioned in
early
accounts of Eudeve
agriculture (Pennington, 1982).
Its wild
variety
has been
undergoing
selection and its seeds are saved at
Zuni,
far removed from
other wild
populations.
The cultural
geography
of
Physalis
deserves further in-
vestigation
in Aridoamerica.
For another set of allochthonous
crops,
continued
introgression
with wild rel-
atives is more
likely,
and this
process
has
probably
contributed to landrace di-
versity
in the
region.
For
example,
Wilkes
(1970)
documented
Nobogame
teosinte
introgression
into maize varieties in the northern
Tepehuan region
of Chihuahua.
This teosinte
introgression
has
long
been considered as a
key
factor for the
presence
of certain
morphological
traits found in
prehistoric
maize elsewhere in Aridoam-
erica,
but such influence is now
subject
to debate
by
corn
geneticists.
The
bewildering diversity
of
morphological
forms of Amaranthus
hypochon-
driacus and A. cruentus from the Warihio Indians
may
be due to
introgression
with A.
hybridus (Sauer,
in
Nabhan, 1979a).
Near the Sonora-Chihuahua border
a few
Warihio, Mayo,
and Mountain Pima farmers still
plant
amaranths. Ama-
ranthus
hybridus
is found in these fields in
high
densities
(Nabhan, 1979a).
More
recently,
I have encountered
possible
evidence of A.
powellii introgression
with
A. cruentus
grown by
the
Hopi
at Lower
Moenkopi,
Arizona. Work in
progress
may
confirm whether
gene exchange
is
actually occurring
in
Hopi
fields. It is
intriguing
that Jonathan Sauer
(1977)
has
proposed
a North American domesti-
cation of A.
hypochondriacus
from A.
powellii,
on the basis of
geographic
as well
as ethnohistoric data from Aridoamerica.
Laura Merrick and I have also
begun documenting introgression
between wild
Cucurbita and Pima landraces of
squashes (C.
mixta and
possibly
C. moschata)
at
Onavas,
Sonora
(Nabhan, 1984).
This work will
complement
Merrick's more
extensive
biosystematic study
of the Cucurbita sororia
complex (Merrick
and
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39
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NABHAN: NATIVE CROP DIVERSITY
Nabhan, 1984; Merrick,
in
prep.).
It
may
be that this
introgression
is
responsible
for the rich varietal
diversity
of C. mixta cushaw
squashes
in Sonora and
adjacent
Sinaloa and Chihuahua,
where
silver-seeded, Taos-type,
and
marginless
seed
seg-
regates appear together
in
populations
that evolved within Indian fields.
In addition, farmers from
Onavas, Sonora, insist that wild
chiltepines
are con-
tributing genes
to their local cultivated
chiles,
some of which
thereby
become too
hot to market!
Cindy
Baker and I have submitted
samples
of wild and cultivated
Capsicum annuum from such
settings
to Dr. Steve
Tanksley
and Fernando Loasa
of New Mexico State
University. They hope
to use
electrophoresis
as a tool to
resolve whether
chiltepine genes
indeed have
introgressed
into chiles
(Tanksley,
1983).
Dr. Giles Waines of the
University
of California at Riverside is
studying
a similar
story
of
potential introgression
of wild and domesticated
tepary
beans
(Phaseolus acutifolius),
both of which occur on the same
floodplains
in
Sonora,
Chihuahua, and Arizona
(Nabhan, 1979b).
The role of
introgression
in the diversification of sunflower landraces after initial
domestication also deserves further field
study. Hopi dye
sunflowers
(Helianthus
annuus)
have
long
been
grown
in the same fields where Helianthus
anomalus,
a
cross-compatible species (Rogers
et
al., 1982)
is
protected by
the
Hopi (Nabhan
and Reichhardt, 1983).
Wild Helianthus annuus is not common in
Hopi fields,
although
it is abundant in those of other tribes, where it could
potentially "swamp"
the domesticate.
Most important
in
defining Aridoamerica as a distinct center of
diversity
are
its endemic domesticates. Panicum sonorum was domesticated
entirely
within
this
region,
but its
relationships
with other taxa in the Panicum hirticaule
complex
are not clear
(Nabhan
and de
Wet, 1984). Today,
this domesticate is
extremely
rare. In the area inhabited
by
the
prehistoric Hohokam, Hordeum
pusillum ap-
pears to have been
culturally
selected. Karen
Adams, with the aid of Vorsila
Bohrer, Robert
Gasser, and Charles
Miksicek, is in the
process of
studying
this
little-known
prehistoric domesticate.
Also,
the
basketry
fiber
plant, Proboscidea
parviflora
var. hohokamiana
appears
to have been domesticated in the last
century
in the northern Sonoran
Desert, from which it was
rapidly
diffused to the Mohave
Desert and Great Basin
(Nabhan
and Rea,
in
press). Peter
Bretting (1982)
and a
team of Arizona scientists
(Nabhan
et
al., 198
la)
have
published on the
dynamics
of this domestication and continue to
study
it. This domesticate no doubt ex-
changes genes
with wild P.
parviflora
var.
parviflora throughout
much of its
range
of cultivation.
Although
I will not review them
here, incipient domesticates such as Jaltomata
in Mesoamerica and southern Aridoamerica
(Davis and
Bye, 1982),
and an Allium
cultivated
by
the
Papago open many
new
questions. At the same
time,
we must
reconsider whether or not
early
historic cultivation of
Agave (Robertson, 1972)
and of a
turnip
or
rutabaga-like
native root
(Pennington, 1982)
resulted in distinct
genotypes.
There is
intriguing archaeological evidence that southern Arizona Ho-
hokam
may
have cultivated an undetermined
Agave
in Classic and Late
Sedentary
times,
in habitats where wild
agaves
are not now found
(Fish
et
al.,
in
prep.).
DRAINING OF GENE POOLS
Of the above-mentioned native
crops, Hordeum, Chenopodium, and
Canavalia
regional gene pools have dried up completely, i.e., these
crops are extinct in
indigenous communities of Aridoamerica.
Locally adapted Panicum, Amaran-
1985]
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
thus,
Gossypium,
and several
species
of the cultivated but
perhaps
not
necessarily
domesticated
plants (e.g., Hyptis)
are near extinction within the
region. Regional
ecotypes
of
chiles, maize,
and sunflowers are
being rapidly replaced by introduced,
improved
varieties. Other native
crops
are not
threatened,
but have
certainly
decreased in abundance as modem
cash-crop
monoculture has
replaced indige-
nous mixed
cropping.
Modem
agricultural management practices
are
likely
de-
creasing
the
potential
for
introgression
of
crops
with
weeds,
since more intensive
tillage
and herbicide use are
commonplace
in certain
subregions.
Let me
emphasize that the oft-cited
example
of Green Revolution
hybrids
replacing
local landraces
hardly accounts for much of the
genetic
erosion of in-
digenous
cultivated
plants
in Aridoamerica.
Most,
but not
all,
of this erosion has
occurred within the last
century,
and is the result of several
interacting
factors:
1. Acculturation/abandonment of
farming
traditions
by indigenous populations.
2. Economic
change/rural migration
to cities.
3. Destruction of
indigenous agricultural
"habitats" via man-induced environ-
mental
change.
4.
Usurpation
of traditional
farming
areas or
irrigation
water
by
others.
5.
Replacement of small-scale mixed
cropping by mechanized
farming
of
single
(often exotic) crops.
On the scale of
villages
and
fields,
there has been a decrease in the
genetic
variation found within certain
crop species due to:
1. Fewer
neighboring
farmers
growing
a
particular crop, resulting
in a smaller
population/gene pool overall.
2. Smaller
populations of
crops per field.
3. Less
frequent planting
of a
crop
or landrace.
4. Loss of the skills of seed selection and
storage.
5.
Change
in
exposure
to
cross-compatible weedy species.
6.
Change
in
vulnerability
to
competition by
weeds and
consumption by pests
(including introduced
species).
7.
Collapse
of several landraces into one multiline
gene pool.
CONSERVATION OF EXTANT NATIVE-CROP DIVERSITY
A number of ex situ and in situ conservation
strategies
for
conserving
extant
genetic diversity
have been
proposed. One
might pursue emergency funding
for
plant collecting
in localities where
rapid cultural or environmental
change
is
occurring, hoping
to
salvage
as
many
varieties as
possible
for
placement
in seed
banks or botanical
gardens.
At the other
extreme, perhaps,
is the Iltis
(1974)
suggestion
that we "freeze the
genetic landscape." Iltis
argues that scientists should
urge politicans to
negotiate
the "deliberate exclusion of
agricultural improve-
ments" into "selected
specific local
genetic landscapes" where
primitive landraces
continue to
exchange genes
with
adjoining weedy
and wild
populations. He
sug-
gests
that
genetic
erosion and environmental destruction caused
by "economic
development" projects
be controlled
by creating biosphere reserves where
indig-
enous farmers would be subsidized to continue with their traditional
agriculture.
Wilkes
(1971) proposed that "world
genetic resource areas" be established where
native
agriculturalists would become curators of
living collections of
crossbreeding
crops
and
weedy relatives. To
preserve areas of maize-teosinte
introgression, for
396
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NABHAN: NATIVE CROP DIVERSITY
example,
Wilkes
suggests
that
only 5 carefully
chosen 5
x
20 km
strips
would be
needed.
While both of these strategies
are motivated
by
a true concern about the
alarming
rate of
genetic erosion, they
have been criticized for
being
somewhat inoperable
and ethnocentric. By relying solely
on ex situ conservation
measures,
we make
the collected material vulnerable to
(1)
decreased
population
variation and
genetic
shifts due to
inbreeding, (2) the effects of seed
storage, occasional, recurrent
grow-
outs, and
(3)
human errors in
sampling
and
handling (Roos, 1980, 1984).
Even
with better
handling
of
germplasm
in seed banks,
we cannot duplicate the
"dy-
namic evolutionary potential"
of
crops
still found in their cradles of
origin (Iltis,
1974). But by relying solely
on in situ conservation measures,
we would be fighting
the tide of acculturation, assimilation,
and economic
change
that affect
virtually
every
human population
on the planet. Today,
it is inevitable that a sizeable
portion
of
any indigenous community
will want to seek opportunities
other than
those
traditionally open to them in their
village,
even if it means
foresaking part
or all of their
agricultural heritage. "Freezing"
an
agroecosystem may
not even
be possible, given
that cultural and environmental
changes
will continue
regardless
of intentional efforts to stop or slow them. Instead, it
may be possible to combine
selected in situ and ex situ conservation measures in a
dynamic way. Each crop
or landrace may be suffering
from a different rate of
genetic
erosion. The rarer a
landrace or
crop complex has become in a
village, the more
important
it is to
consider "rescue" techniques
to assure that some seeds are conserved ex situ.
When a landrace is still
grown by
a number of families in different
villages, greater
effort should be exerted to
encourage at least a few
growers to conserve it in situ.
Various combinations of in situ and ex situ
crop
conservation are now
being
attempted by
a number of
organizations, including the nonprofit
Native Seeds/
SEARCH
organization
based in Tucson. When Native Seeds/SEARCH staff makes
field collections, farmers who donate seeds are
usually
asked if
they
have
enough
surplus supply to spare
and if there are other kinds of native seeds that
they
formerly grew which we
might help
obtain for them.
In
general,
conservation measures will be most effective when communities of
native farmers are cognizant of, and involved in, their
planning
and
implemen-
tation.
They
should become aware that reciprocal exchanges
of seeds with
gene
banks are possible
and that other options
are available as well. Farmers who
donate seeds to a
gene
bank or botanical
garden
must be informed how to
gain
access to
subsamples
of seed increases held in
gene
banks and botanical
gardens,
in case they happen to lose their
remaining
seeds.
They
must know the reasons
that others are interested in these seeds, and their own efforts to
propagate them
must be reinforced. In this
respect, it is
heartening
that
agricultural education
programs
on Indian reservations now include information from tribal elders on
traditional
planting techniques,
seed
saving,
and selection
(Bingham
and
Bingham,
1979; Nabhan et al., 1981 b).
In the future, indigenous foods, seeds, and
farming practices should be further
encouraged
as part
of cultural revival movements, tribal health, and
gardening
projects,
and educational outreach
programs.
New cultural and economic incen-
tives for
diversified, regionally adapted agriculture
must be
considered, particu-
larly
when extant incentives for
growing
certain native
crops
no
longer are effective.
1985]
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ECONOMIC BOTANY
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Research on native
crop/weed introgression
in Aridoamerica has been
supported by grants
from
the Wenner-Grenn Foundation and the National Science Foundation
Anthropology
and
Linguistics
Sections
(BNS-8317190), through
the
University
of Arizona. Research on the causes of
genetic
erosion
and conservation
strategies applicable
in this
region
has been aided
by
C.S. Fund and Tides Foundation
support
to Native Seeds/SEARCH. I thank Mahina
Drees,
Karen
Reichhardt, Barney Burns, Laura
Merrick,
Robert
Bye,
Charles
Miksicek,
and Garrison Wilkes for
helpful
discussion.
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