Genetic population structure of cacao plantings within a young production area in Nicaragua.
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Significant cocoa production in the municipality of Waslala, Nicaragua, began in 1961. Since the 1980s, its economic importance to rural smallholders increased, and the region now contributes more than 50% of national cocoa bean production. This research aimed to assist local farmers to develop production of high-value cocoa based on optimal use of cacao biodiversity. Using microsatellite markers, the allelic composition and genetic structure of cacao was assessed from 44 representative plantings and two unmanaged trees. The population at Waslala consists of only three putative founder genotype spectra (lineages). Two (B and R) were introduced during the past 50 years and occur in >95% of all trees sampled, indicating high rates of outcrossing. Based on intermediate allelic diversity, there was large farm-to-farm multilocus genotypic variation. GIS analysis revealed unequal distribution of the genotype spectra, with R being frequent within a 2 km corridor along roads, and B at more remote sites with lower precipitation. The third lineage, Y, was detected in the two forest trees. For explaining the spatial stratification of the genotype spectra, both human intervention and a combination of management and selection driven by environmental conditions, appear responsible. Genotypes of individual trees were highly diverse across plantings, thus enabling selection for farm-specific qualities. On-farm populations can currently be most clearly recognized by the degree of the contribution of the three genotype spectra. Of two possible strategies for future development of cacao in Waslala, i.e. introducing more unrelated germplasm, or working with existing on-site diversity, the latter seems most appropriate. Superior genotypes could be selected by their specific composite genotype spectra as soon as associations with desired quality traits are established, and clonally multiplied. The two Y trees from the forest share a single multilocus genotype, possibly representing the Mayan, â??ancient Criolloâ?? cacao
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