, Volume 18, Issue 13, pp 3337-3355

The Opuntia (Cactaceae) and Dactylopius (Hemiptera: Dactylopiidae) in Mexico: a historical perspective of use, interaction and distribution

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Abstract

A historical perspective on the use and production of species of Dactylopius (Hemipetera: Dactylopiidae) and Opuntia (Cactaceae: Opuntioidae), information on their origin, diversity and distribution in Mexico are reviewed, and aspects of their conservation are discussed. The use and exploitation of both genera are part of Mexican cultures since prehistory. Opuntia species were among the main components of human diet during pre-agricultural times. Cochineal was used and probably cultivated at least from the Tenth century. During the colonial period, cochineal generated significant benefits to the Spaniard colonizers and Mexico was the world’s first producer of insects and dyes until the mid Nineteenth century. Currently, Mexico is the main producer of Opuntia cladodes and prickly pear, but cochineal cultivation is marginal and only maintained in traditional indigenous systems. Mexico is one of the main areas of diversity of Opuntia, having 83–104 out of nearly 200 species worldwide. More than 50 species are used mainly as food, fodder and medicine and 20 species are cultivated with different degrees of domestication. The genus Dactylopius includes nine species, with five of them naturally occurring in Mexico. Only D. coccus has been cultivated and domesticated but other wild species have been used throughout history. Arid and semiarid areas of Mexico are among the most important reservoirs of biological diversity for both genera, particularly for D. coccus. Specific measures for protection of such biodiversity and generic resources are required. Strategies for in situ conservation combined with re-established use and cochineal production may enhance conservation policies.