The eastern part of the Fertile Crescent concealed an unexpected route of olive (Olea europaeaL.) differentiation

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Abstract

Background and Aims

Olive is considered a native plant of the eastern side of the Mediterranean basin, from where it should have spread westward along the Mediterranean shores, while little is known about its diffusion in the eastern direction.

Methods

Genetic diversity levels and population genetic structure of a wide set of olive ecotypes and varieties collected from several provinces of Iran, representing a high percentage of the entire olive resources present in the area, was screened with 49 chloroplast and ten nuclear simple sequence repeat markers, and coupled with archaeo-botanical and historical data on Mediterranean olive varieties. Approximate Bayesian Computation was applied to define the demographic history of olives including Iranian germplasm, and species distribution modelling was performed to understand the impact of the Late Quaternary on olive distribution.

Key Results

The results of the present study demonstrated that: (1) the climatic conditions of the last glacial maximum had an important role on the actual olive distribution, (2) all Iranian olive samples had the same maternal inheritance as Mediterranean cultivars, and (3) the nuclear gene flow from the Mediterranean basin to the Iranian plateau was almost absent, as well as the contribution of subspecies cuspidata to the diversity of Iranian olives.

Conclusions

Based on this evidence, a new scenario for the origin and distribution of this important fruit crop has been traced. The evaluation of olive trees growing in the eastern part of the Levant highlighted a new perspective on the spread and distribution of olive, suggesting two routes of olive differentiation, one westward, spreading along the Mediterranean basin, and another moving towards the east and reaching the Iranian plateau before its domestication.

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