African Vegetables — “not without merit”

Many people interested in crop diversity have on their bookshelves the “Lost crops …” series published by America’s National Academies of Science. They detail neglected species of South America and Africa, gathering the kind of summary data that is so hard to find in one place. A new volume on African Vegetables has just been published, and it looks really interesting. From the blurb:

The report examines the promise of 18 African vegetables to help feed the continent’s growing population and spur sustainable development. These native vegetables – including amaranth, cowpea, and egusi – are still cherished in many parts of Africa, and even attract some research interest, but they are typically overlooked by scientists and policymakers in the world at large. In the past, these local plants may have been judged less valuable than the well-known vegetables introduced to Africa from other parts of the world. But because few indigenous vegetables have been studied extensively, information about them is often outdated, difficult to find, or largely anecdotal. Despite this neglect, they are not without merit, the report emphasizes.

The printed copy is expensive. But for anyone with a good internet connection, the entire thing is available for reading — and searching — online from the NAS web site.

Volume 1, covering grains, came out in 1996. Volume 3 will cover African Fruits. Let’s hope it arrives before 2016.

Domestication my ass

Why was the Somali wild ass domesticated and not, say, the zebra? It’s a cantankerous animal at best. Washington University archaeologist Fiona Marshall is travelling the world looking at bones and wild populations, but she is also studying the behaviour of the St Louis Zoo’s five wild asses with Zoo researcher Cheryl Asa to seek “clues as to how they were turned into donkeys,” according to this article.

Frozen olives

A paper in the Journal of Biogeography reports on the biggest ever microsatellite study of wild and cultivated olives in the Mediterranean. There is a cline in diversity from east to west, suggesting that perhaps the wild olive in the west is feral rather than truly wild, but this study suggests that the wild olive spread out of 7 RPOPs, or reconstructed panmictic oleaster populations, in both eastern and western Mediterranean, possibly located in glacial refugia. Cultivated olives were domesticated in several RPOPs, and mediated geneflow in the wild species as they were spread around my humans. Has this business of glacial refugia been looked at for other cultivated trees in Europe?

Goats crucial to spread of agriculture

National Geographic reports on a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concludes that goats “accompanied the earliest farmers into Europe some 7,500 years ago, helping to revolutionize Stone Age society”. Goats are genetically much more diverse than other domesticated animals. This suggests they spread more quickly, and moved more rapidly, than other livestock.