An international study with the participation of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) helps to understand the patterns of domestication and dispersal of fruit species in the Americas and distinguish the role played by the extinct Hervíbora megafauna (giant sloths, giant armadillos, and mastodons, among others) and human beings.
The work, published in the journal PNAS, analyzes a database with information on the distribution of 130 fruit species such as cocoa, cashew, chicozapote (gum tree), pineapple or species close to cherimoya.
About 12,000 years ago the megafauna became extinct in America, mainly due to colonization by the human being of the continent. These animals dispersed naturally many of the fruit species of the continent. With its extinction, there was a risk that many of them would disappear but this work reveals that the use of many of these plant species by human beings has been able to reverse the extinction.
“Through different statistical analyzes we have studied the distribution of different fruit species depending on whether they have been used or not by humans since the megafauna became extinct,” says CSIC researcher Iñaki Hormaza, who works at the Institute of Subtropical and Mediterranean Hortofruticultura La Mayora.
The study shows that the American cultures used a great diversity of fruit trees, in fact, approximately three-quarters of the species dispersed by the megafauna were used by the American inhabitants in pre-Columbian times.
However, in recent years there has been an increase in the cultivation of certain species for commercial purposes, which can lead to the loss of a diversity generated over thousands of years. “And this fact is aggravated by the predictions of climate change for the region. Therefore, urgent measures must be taken both to conserve existing genetic resources in underutilized species and to recover as food and other uses species that were used in antiquity and that are practically unknown to a large part of society today, “concludes Hormaza
In addition to the CSIC, Biodiversity International (Costa Rica), the World Vegetable Center (Taiwan), the University of Oxford (United Kingdom), the Arizona State University (United States), the Ministry of Environment of Brazil and the University of Sydney (Australia).