Integrating Gene Flow, Crop Biology, and Farm Management in On-Farm Conservation of Avocado (Persea americana, Lauraceae)

Kenneth Birnbaum, Rob DeSalle, Charles M. Peters, Philip N. Benfey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Maintaining crop diversity on farms where cultivars can evolve is a conservation goal, but few tools are available to assess the long-term maintenance of genetic diversity on farms. One important issue for on-farm conservation is gene flow from crops with a narrow genetic base into related populations that are genetically diverse. In a case study of avocado (Persea americana var. americana) in one of its centers of diversity (San Jerónimo, Costa Rica), we used 10 DNA microsatellite markers in a parentage analysis to estimate gene flow from commercialized varieties into a traditional crop population. Five commercialized genotypes comprised nearly 40% of orchard trees, but they contributed only about 14.5% of the gametes to the youngest cohort of trees. Although commercialized varieties and the diverse population were often planted on the same farm, planting patterns appeared to keep the two types of trees separated on small scales, possibly explaining the limited gene flow. In a simulation that combined gene flow estimates, crop biology, and graft tree management, loss of allelic diversity was less than 10% over 150 yr, and selection was effective in retaining desirable alleles in the diverse subpopulation. Simulations also showed that, in addition to gene flow, managing the genetic makeup and life history traits of the invasive commercialized varieties could have a significant impact on genetic diversity in the target population. The results support the feasibility of on-farm crop conservation, but simulations also showed that higher levels of gene flow could lead to severe losses of genetic diversity even if farmers continue to plant diverse varieties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1619-1627
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Botany
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2003


  • Avocado
  • Crop conservation
  • Effective population size
  • Ethnobotany
  • Gene flow
  • Genetic diversity
  • Genetic drift
  • Lauraceae
  • Persea americana

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Plant Science


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