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Varietal Dynamics and Yam Agro-Diversity Demonstrate Complex Trajectories Intersecting Farmers’ Strategies, Networks, and Disease Experience

Abstract : Loss of varietal diversity is a worldwide challenge to crop species at risk for genetic erosion, while the loss of biological resources may hinder future breeding objectives. Loss of varieties has been mostly investigated in traditional agricultural systems where variety numbers are dramatically high, or for most economically important crop species for which comparison between pre-intensive and modern agriculture was possible. Varietal dynamics, i.e., turnover, or gains and losses of varieties by farmers, is nevertheless more rarely studied and while we currently have good estimates of genetic or varietal diversity for most crop species, we have less information as to how on farm agro-diversity changes and what cause its dynamics. We therefore investigated varietal dynamics in the agricultural yam system in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. We interviewed producers about varieties they cultivated in the past compared to their current varieties, in addition to characterizing yam cropping characteristics and both farm level and producers socio-economic features. We then used regression tree analyses to investigate the components of yam agro-diversity, varietal dynamics and impact of anthracnose on varieties. Our data demonstrated that no dramatic loss of varieties occurred within the last decades. Cultivation changes mostly affected widespread cultivars while frequency of uncommon varieties stayed relatively stable. Varietal dynamics nevertheless followed sub-regional patterns, and socio-economic influences such as producer age or farm crop diversity. Recurrent anthracnose epidemics since the 1970s did not alter varietal dynamics strongly, but sometimes translated into transition from Dioscorea alata to less susceptible species or into a decrease of yam cultivation. Factors affecting changes in agro-diversity were not relating to agronomy in our study, and surprisingly there were different processes delineating short term from long term varietal dynamics, independently of disease risk. Our results highlighted the importance of understanding varietal dynamics, an often overlooked component of agriculture sustainability, in addition to evolutionary forces shaping agro-diversity and genetic diversity distribution within crops. It is also crucial to understand how processes involved do scale up worldwide and for different crop species, so as not to mislead on-farm conservation efforts and efficacy of agro-diversity preservation.
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Laurent Penet, Denis Cornet, Jean-Marc Blazy, Angela Alleyne, Emilie Simone Barthe, et al.. Varietal Dynamics and Yam Agro-Diversity Demonstrate Complex Trajectories Intersecting Farmers’ Strategies, Networks, and Disease Experience. Frontiers in Plant Science, Frontiers, 2016, 7, ⟨10.3389/fpls.2016.01962⟩. ⟨hal-01608280⟩

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