BACKGROUND AND AIMS: The wild progenitors of the Near Eastern legumes have low germination rates mediated by hardseededness. Hence it was argued that cultivation of these wild legumes would probably result in no yield gain. Based on the meagre natural yield of wild lentil and its poor germination, it was suggested that wild Near Eastern grain legumes were unlikely to have been adopted for cultivation unless freely germinating types were available for the incipient farmers. Unlike wild cereals, data from experimental cultivation of wild legumes are lacking.
METHODS: Replicated nurseries of wild pea (Pisum elatius, P. humile and P. fulvum) were sown during 2007-2010 in the Mediterranean district of Israel. To assess the effect of hardseededness on the yield potential, seeds of the wild species were either subjected to scarification (to ensure germination) or left intact, and compared with domesticated controls.
KEY RESULTS: Sowing intact wild pea seeds mostly resulted in net yield loss due to poor establishment caused by wild-type low germination rates, while ensuring crop establishment by scarification resulted in net, although modest, yield gain, despite considerable losses due to pod dehiscence. Harvest efficiency of the wild pea plots was significantly higher (2-5 kg seeds h(-1)) compared with foraging efficiency in wild pea populations (ranging from a few grams to 0·6 kg h(-1)).
CONCLUSIONS: Germination and yield data from 'cultivation' of wild pea suggest that Near Eastern legumes are unlikely to have been domesticated via a protracted process. Put differently, the agronomic implications of the hardseededness of wild legumes are incompatible with a millennia-long scenario of unconscious selection processes leading to 'full' domestication. This is because net yield loss in cultivation attempts is most likely to have resulted in abandonment of the respective species within a short time frame, rather than perpetual unprofitable cultivation for several centuries or millennia.
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