Origin and Domestication

  • Guillaume BesnardEmail author
Part of the Compendium of Plant Genomes book series (CPG)


The olive is the most iconic Mediterranean tree. The multiple uses of wild and cultivated olives make this species economically significant and a keystone of traditional Mediterranean agrosystems. The literature on its domestication is reviewed here, with a focus on the recent results on population, archaeobotanical, and genetic studies. Since the Late Tertiary, the olive distribution has been shaped by past climatic and geological changes as well as humans during prehistoric and historic times. It is usually accepted that olive has been primarily domesticated in the Levant. Three main gene pools are, however, identified for the cultivated olive in eastern, Central, and western Mediterranean. These centers of diversity likely reflect crop diversification from East to West but could also result from independent domestications. The breeding process is still ongoing, including areas outside of the native range where cultivated olives and wild relatives were introduced into the same regions. Gene exchanges between wild and cultivated olives have played a major role in the diversification of the crop. In the future, the in situ conservation of wild populations, locally endangered, should be essential to preserve the evolutionary potential of the cultivated olive.


Admixture Archaeobotany Mediterranean agrosystem Oleaster Phylogeography Primary domestication 



I thank the members of the EDB laboratory for fruitful discussions. I’m also grateful to A. Cornille, P. Cuneo, L. Chikhi and R. Rubio de Casas for helpful comments, and to M. Goudet for providing the olive distribution map. GB is supported by TULIP (ANR-10-LABX-0041) and PESTOLIVE (ARIMNet action KBBE 219262).


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CNRS-UPS-ENSFEA, EDB, UMR 5174Université Paul SabatierToulouseFrance

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