Origins of tropical cultivated taro (Colocasia esculenta, sato-imo): wild populations around the Bay of Bengal?
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Tracking the geographical origins of taro is now aimed at mapping genetic diversity of wild taro populations in coastal regions around the Bay of Bengal and across Southeast Asia. A recent survey of genetic diversity in taro across Asia and the Pacific hints that tropical cultivated taro has a natural origin somewhere around the Bay of Bengal.
Given the possible antiquity of use of this plant by human ancestors, we must also give attention to how changes in sea level may have expanded, reduced or focused human interactions with wild populations of the plant, during and after the last Ice Age. Learning how people use -- or avoid -- wild taros today may also help us identify where the progenitors of tropical cultivated taro were located.
Keywords: ethnobotany, plant domestication, wild taro, Indo-Pacific
About the speaker:
Peter Matthews is a professor of ethnobotany and prehistory at the National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka. After studies in biology and archaeology in New Zealand and Australia, he began working in Japan in 1990 as a post-doctoral researcher at the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Ano, Mie-ken), then continued working at Kyoto University and the National Museum of Ethnology. He has carried out fieldwork in many regions of Southeast Asia, most recently in Bangladesh, India, and Thailand.