, Volume 120, Issue 1, pp 143-157

Traditional management of cassava morphological and genetic diversity by the Makushi Amerindians (Guyana, South America): Perspectives for on-farm conservation of crop genetic resources

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Abstract

In this paper we present original data on morphological and genetic diversity of cassava managed by the Makushi Amerindians from Guyana. Although they propagate cassava exclusively vegetatively by means of stem cuttings, many Amerindian farmers also use and multiply volunteer plants grown from seeds produced by sexual reproduction. Morphological characters were recorded for 29 varieties cultivated by the Makushi and two populations of plants originating from volunteer cassava seedlings. Genetic characterisation with AFLP markers was available for 21 of the examined varieties. The morphological and agronomic characters were highly variable among varieties. Every variety could be differentiated from any other one, except for one pair of varieties. However, high intra-varietal variability existed, which might lead to confusions between phenotypically similar varieties by the Makushi. Seedlings were on average different from the pool of the varieties studied, but 67% were found to resemble closely enough one of the varieties to be liable to be assigned to it. Confusion between very similar varieties, as well as assignment of seedlings to a variety, should generate genetic variability within varieties, which was detected with AFLP markers. As in other sites in Amazonia, there was only a weak correlation between inter-varietal distances assessed with molecular and with morphological markers, suggesting that diversification of morphological characters has taken place repeatedly and independently across the Amazonian range of the crop. Diversifying selection, exchanges of varieties between farmers, and incorporation of sexually produced volunteer plants are key mechanisms responsible for the high diversity observed. Strategies of conservation of genetic resources should take these dynamic processes into account.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.