History of Scientific Agriculture: Crop Plants

Abstract

The first farming communities appeared in the Fertile Crescent above the Tigris River in what is now Iran approximately 13 000 years ago. Agriculture was also invented independently at several other locations in the world including Africa, Asia, China, India, Japan, Mesoamerica, South America and the Eastern US. Most of the early crops were annual types that were self‐pollinating and polyploid. The crops emerging in each region spread gradually across the world. Once humans began to plant and harvest, several profound changes occurred in the crop species due to conscious and unconscious selection. Some of the major changes were nonshattering of seed pods, more determinate growth, more uniform ripening, larger seed size and increased seed production. Levels of genetic diversity were also greatly reduced during the process of crop domestication when humans selected only those types that were most beneficial to them.

Key Concepts:

  • Homo sapiens did not begin agriculture until approximately 13 000 years ago, even though the modern form of humans appeared approximately 50 000 years ago.

  • The domestication of crops by humans began in what is called the ‘Fertile Crescent’ on the western edge of modern Iran, but at least 13 other locations across the world spawned agriculture.

  • The act of planting and harvesting plants dramatically altered the genetic and physiological makeup of crop species, effecting traits such as seed retention, growth patterns, uniformity of ripening and levels of seed production.

  • The earliest crops represented a broad array of plant families, but most were herbaceous annuals and self‐pollinated.

  • During the domestication process, levels of genetic variation were dramatically reduced as humans selected a narrow range of plant types.

Keywords: crop diversity; domestication syndromes; origins of agriculture; plant domestication; polyploidy

Figure 1.

Development of food production methods over time. From Ford (1985).

Figure 2.

Centres of plant domestication. Solid‐shaded areas and hatched areas indicate regions of important seed‐crop domestication and vegecultural crops, respectively. Accepted primary domestication centres are shown in black, and potentially important secondary domestication centres are shown in grey. Arrows indicate major trajectories of spread of agriculture and crops out of some centres. Areas are numbered are as follows: 1 – eastern North America, 2 – Mesoamerica, 2a – northern lowland neotropics, 3 – central mid‐altitude Andes, 3a – north and central Andes, 3b – mid‐altitude and high altitude lowland southern Amazonia, 3c – Ecuador and northwest Peru, 4 – West African sub‐Sahara, 4a – West African savanna and woodlands, 4b – West African rainforests, 5 – east Sudanic Africa, 6 – East African uplands and lowland vegeculture, 7 – Near East, 7a – eastern fertile crescent, 8a – Gujarat, India, 8b – Upper Indus, 8c – Ganges, 8d – Southern India, 9 – eastern Himalayas and Yunnan uplands, 10 – northern China, 11 – southern Hokkaido, Japan, 12 – Yangtze, China, 12a – southern China, 13 – New Guinea and Wallacea. Reproduced with permission from Purugganan and Fuller .

close

References

Allard RW and Kahler AL (1971) Allozyme polymosphisms in plant populations. Stadler Symposia 3: 9–24.

Ammerman AJ and Cavalli‐Sforza LL (1984) The Neolithic Transition and the Genetics of Populations in Europe. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Anderson E (1954) Plant, Man and Life. London: Melrose.

Bailey CH and Hough LF (1975) Apricots. In: Janick J and Moore JN (eds) Advances in Fruit Breeding. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.

Berry MA (1985) The age of maize in the greater Southwest: a critical review. In: Ford I (ed.) Prehistoric Food Production in North America. Ann Arbor: Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.

Bush MB, Piperno DR and Colinvaux PA (1989) A 6000 year history of Amazonian maize cultivation. Nature 340: 303–305.

Chomkos SA and Crawford GN (1978) Plant husbandry in prehistoric eastern North America: new evidence for its development. American Antiquity 43: 405–408.

Crawford GW (1992) Prehistoric plant domestication in East Asia. In: Cowan CW and Watson PJ (eds) The Origins of Agriculture. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Diamond J (1998) Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Doebley J, Stec A and Gustus C (1995) Teosinte branched 1 and the origin of maize: evidence for epistasis and the evolution of dominance. Genetics 141: 333–346.

Doebley J, Stec A, Wendel J and Edwards M (1990) Genetic and morphological analysis of a maize‐teosinte F2 population: implications for the origin of maize. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA 87: 9888–9892.

Doebley JF, Gaut BS and Smith BD (2006) The molecular genetics of crop domestication. Cell 127: 1309–1321.

Dorweiler JE and Doebley J (1997) Developmental analysis of teosinte glume architecture 1: a key locus in the evolution of maize (Poaceae). American Journal of Botany 84: 1313–1322.

Emory KP and Sinoto YH (1964) Préhistire de la polynésie. Journal de la Société des Océanistes 20: 39–41.

Gottleib LD (1984) Genetics and morphological evolution in plants. American Naturalist 123: 681–709.

Hancock JF (2003) Plant Evolution and the Origin of Crop Plants. Wallingford, UK: CABI Publishing.

Hancock JF (2012) Plant Evolution and the Origin of Crop Species, 3rd edn. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

Harlan JR (1967) Agricultural origins: centers and non‐centers. Science 174: 468–474.

Harlan JR (1975) Geographic patterns of variation in some cultivated crops. Journal of Heredity 66: 182–191.

Harlan JR (1976) Plant and animal distribution in relation to domestication. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Botanical Society, London 275: 13–25.

Harlan JR (1992) Crops and Man, 2nd edn. Madison, WI: American Society of Agronomy.

Harlan JR, de Wet JMJ and Price EG (1973) Comparative evolution of cereals. Evolution 27: 311–325.

Hesse CO (1975) Peaches. In: Janick J and Moore JN (eds) Advances in Fruit Breeding. West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press.

Hilu KW (1983) The role of single–gene mutations in the evolution of flowering plants. Evolutionary Biology 16: 97–128.

Ho PT (1969) The origin of Chinese agriculture. In: Reed CA (ed.) Origins of Agriculture. Mouton: The Hague.

Hopf M (1983) Jerico plant remains. In: Kenyon KM and Holland TA (eds) Excavations at Jerico, vol. 5. London: British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.

Knight RL (1948) The role of major genes in the evolution of economic characters. Journal of Genetics 48: 370–387.

Ladizinski G (1985) Founder effect in crop evolution. Economic Botany 3: 191–199.

Lee RE (1968) What hunters do for a living, or how to make out on scarce resources. In: Lee RB and DeVore I (eds) Man the Hunter. Chicago: Aldine.

Lukens LN and Doebley J (1999) Epistatic and environmental interactions for quantitative trait loci involved in maize evolution. Genetical Research 74: 291–302.

MacNeisch RS, Nelken‐Terner A and Johnson IW (1967) The Prehistory of the Tehuacán Valley. Auston, Texas: University of Texas Press.

Pickersgill B (1969) The archeological record of chili peppers (Capsicum spp.). American Antiquity 35: 54–61.

Pickersgill B (2007) Domestication of plants in the Americas: Insights from Mendelian and molecular genetics. Annals of Botany 100: 925–940.

Piperno DR, Ranere AJ, Holst I and Hansell P (2000) Starch grains reveal early root crop horticulture in the Panamanian tropical forest. Nature 407: 894–897.

Purugganan MD and Fuller DQ (2009) The nature of selection during plant domestication. Nature 457: 843–848.

Sauer CO (1952) Agricultural Origins and Dispersals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Sauer JD (1993) Historical Geography of Crop Plants: A Select Roster. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Simmonds NW (1979) Principles of Crop Improvement. London: Longman.

Smith BD (1989) Origins of Agriculture in Eastern North America. Science 246: 1566–1571.

Smith BD (1998) The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library, HPHLP.

Tanksley SD and McCouch SR (1997) Seed banks and molecular maps: unlocking the genetic potential from the wild. Science 277: 1063–1066.

Vavilov NI (1926) Studies on the Origins of Cultivated Plants. Leningrad: Institute of Applied Botany and Plant Breeding.

Vavilov NI (1949–1950) The Origin, Variation, Immunity and Breeding of Cultivated Crops. Waltham, MA: Chrona Botanica.

Wittwer S, Youtai Y, Han S and Lianzheng W (1987) Feeding a Billion. Frontiers of Chinese Agriculture. East Lansing, Michigan: Michigan State University Press.

Zohary D (1986) The origin and spread of agriculture in the old world. In: Barigozzi C (ed.) The Origin and Domestication of Cultivated Plants. Amsterdam: Elsevier.

Further Reading

Bellwood P (2005) First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Cowan CW and Watson PJ (eds) (1992) The Origins of Agriculture: An International Perspective. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Heiser C (1990) Seed to Civilization: The Story of Food. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Smartt J and Simmonds NW (1995) Evolution of Crop Plants. Harlow, UK: Longman Scientific & Technical.

Zohary D, Hopf M and Weiss E (2012) Domestication of Plants in the Old World, 4th edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Hancock, JF(Aug 2012) History of Scientific Agriculture: Crop Plants. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003099.pub2]