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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Date Palms of Arabia: A Multifunctional Genetic Resource

Author
item Jaradat, Abdullah

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: May 11, 2006
Publication Date: July 1, 2010
Citation: Jaradat, A.A. 2010. Date Palms of Arabia: A Multifunctional Genetic Resource. In: Esechie, H.A., editor. Proceedings of the International Conference on Date Palm Production and Processing Technology, May 9-11, 2006, Muscat, Oman. p. 13-17.

Interpretive Summary: Date palms are integral components of farming systems in arid and semi-arid regions of Arabia and can be produced equally well in small farm units or as large-scale commercial plantations. Cultivated date palm is closely related to a variable aggregate of wild and feral palms distributed over the southern, warm and dry Middle East as well as the north-eastern Saharan and north Arabian deserts. Traditional date palm production is based on thousands of distinct cultivars exhibiting a wide range of adaptation, growth habit and fruit characteristics. Date palm diversity is declining due to multiple economic and social factors. Biotic and abiotic threats to the date palm industry in Arabia include the red palm weevil, drought, and salinity. For a successful date palm industry, accurate estimates of genetic diversity and its partitioning, especially for biotic and abioitic stresses, within and among gene pools is an important consideration. Sustainability of the oases agro-ecosystem, with its limited and declining soil and water resources, depends largely on a highly diverse genetic base of date palms to help regulate the water cycle and conserve soil and water resources, to regulate biomass decomposition and nutrient cycling, to conserve biodiversity and to optimize biomass and yield production. Knowledge of genetic diversity levels, partitioning and composition of date palm groves will help planners, researchers and farmers identify problem areas, and develop and implement appropriate measures to mitigate potential impact of environmental, economic and social changes on the oases agro-ecosystems.

Technical Abstract: Arabia Deserta is a part of the center of origin and constitutes a sizable part of the center of diversity of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Cultivated date palm is closely related to a variable aggregate of wild and feral palms distributed over the southern, warm and dry Middle East as well as the north-eastern Saharan and north Arabian deserts. These spontaneous dates show close morphological similarities and parallel climatic requirements with the cultivated clones. In addition, they are inter-fertile with the cultivars and are interconnected with them through occasional hybridization. Date palm cultivars represent a complex gene pool within which historical movement of germplasm, recent introductions and human selection are shaping their genetic structure. The date palm is unique in that it is composed of genetically discrete clones representing cultivars without the benefits of a dynamic mutation-recombination system. The strong artificial selection and clonal propagation of date palms, in the oases agroecosystems, greatly altered their original genetic structure. Traditional date palm production is based on thousands of distinct cultivars exhibiting a wide range of adaptation, growth habit and fruit characteristics. Date palm cultivars stand at the center of a complex agro-ecological, economic and social structure, and for millennia, they functioned as a multi-purpose genetic resource. However, due to biotic and abiotic stresses, economic, and social factors, the diversity of date palm groves in Arabia is declining and the composition of these groves as to the number of cultivars witnessed a sharp decline in recent years. Sustainability of the oases agroecosystem, with its limited and declining soil and water resources, depends largely on a highly diverse genetic base of date palms to help regulate the water cycle and conserve soil and water resources, to regulate biomass decomposition and nutrient cycling, to conserve biodiversity and to optimize biomass and yield production.

Last Modified: 9/22/2014
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