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Interaction, Ecology and Society Department

RESEARCH Interaction, Ecology and Societies Biocultural Interactions

Geo COPPENS

CIRAD scientist

CEFE/CNRS
Campus du CNRS
1919, route de Mende
34293 Montpellier 5

Tél. : +33/0 4 67 61 32 99
Fax : +33/0 4 67 41 21 38

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Keywords: Species focus : neotropical fruits, including pineapple (Ananas comosus),  passion fruits (Passiflora spp.), and Caricaceae (common papaya and mountain papayas); safou or African plum (Dacryodes edulis) - Topics: genetic resources and plant breeding, plant systematics; interfaces between genetics and social anthropology and between crop botany and historical linguistics/archaeology  - Techniques:  morphological/biochemical/molecular characterization,  climatic niche modeling and diversity mapping  - Thematic focus :  origin of cultivated plants, domestication, social structuration of genetic resources, social diversity and plant diversity

Neotropical fruits

Initially a plant breeder, I came to specialize in genetic resources of neotropical fruits, with particular expertise in three groups: a major fruit, the pineapple (Ananas comosus); passion fruits (Passiflora spp), including the yellow maracuja, now pantropical, and over a dozen minor fruits, of regional or national importance; and papayas, including the common papaya (Carica papaya), of high economic and social importance, and mountain papayas (Vasconcellea spp.) of regional significance (Andes and Andean foothills). Beyond these species, I gather, as much as possible, bibliographical data on all neotropical fruits (over 1,200 species in 66 families and 285 genera).

Tropical fruits include a large number of species with an intermediate production cycle (herbaceous perennials, like the pineapple, lianas, such as passionflowers and semi-woody plants, such as papayas and cacti), with a relatively large proportion of cultigens. But the vast majority are long-cycle species, including trees and palms. Even though their fruit characteristics often reflect the effect of human selection, their status of domestication is highly variable and there appears to be no clear relationship between their dependence on man for their propagation and the antiquity and intensity of their exploitation or the extent of their dissemination. Thus, the avocado was domesticated in Mesoamerica more than 10,000 years ago, whereas the cocoa tree, comparable in antiquity and importance for the development of pre-Columbian societies, has not developed a domestication syndrome. Retaining its original adaptations, it has formed spontaneous populations in the forests of Central America, well outside of its Amazon habitat, while the wild avocado populations have remained confined to Mesoamerica.

The study of plant domestication has long been focused on a few species of annual field crops, mainly cereals, for reasons related to the ethnocentrism of scientists and a linear conception of the development of human societies, involving the dominance of an agricultural model leading to demographic growth and increasing social hierarchy (the so-called Neolithic Revolution). The forest was perceived as a hostile environment, highly unfavorable to the development of complex societies. The inclusion of tropical forests among the main areas of plant domestication is very recent, and we are only opening our eyes on the sophisticated agroforestry systems that have shaped their landscapes and biodiversity, sustaining relatively large and very diverse human populations. Even though American archeology has finally invested lowland rainforests, it is still focused on a few flagship plants (mostly maize and cassava), other plants being rarely mentioned in the results of excavations. Yet it seems difficult to understand a system based on the exploitation of megadiverse forests only from the study of microfossils of a few staple crops. On the contrary, we must study all the components of these past and present agroforestry systems, if we want to learn how these civilizations have developed and preserved the megadiversity of their environment, applying the concepts of ecological intensification long before us. In this context, tree fruits are much more than “the cherry on the cake."

Reconstruction of ancestral Mesoamerican languages, (agro)biodiversity and homelands of pre-Columbian societies

I work with Cecil Brown (Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois), a linguist specializing in languages and ancestral Mesoamerican dialects. Cecil identified among 32 species, cultivated or managed by contemporary Mesoamerican peoples, those whose names can be reconstructed in the ancient languages (proto-languages), revealing the antiquity of their economic importance. We are using this knowledge for determining where these proto-language were spoken. Indeed, geographic regions in which the important plant species of a given proto-language are typically found are logical candidates for its homeland. We use GIS tools for climatic niche modeling to identify them. We chose the Proto-Zapotecan language family for a first test of our method because location of its modern daughter languages is relatively circumscribed, thus lending it to reasonably straightforward geographic interpretation with respect to niche modeling results.

Social structuring of genetic resources

I work with Christian Leclerc (anthropologist, CIRAD-UMR 96/DAP/SRG), as part of a project studying the consequences of the social structure of Meru farmers (who live on the slopes of Mount Kenya) on the structuring of their crop genetic diversity. The model plants are cereals (sorghum, millet) and my support is limited to the theoretical framework, at the interface between social anthropology and genetics of cultivated populations.

FRUITS FROM AMERICA: An ethnobotanical inventory
Geo Coppens d'Eeckenbrugge and  Dimary Libreros Ferla

IBiocultural News

IBC Team

Yildiz AUMEERUDDY-THOMAS
(Chercheur CNRS)
Claudine BARRE
(Secrétaire CIRAD)
Laure BENOIT
(Technicienne CIRAD)
Roland BOURDEIX
(Chercheur CIRAD)
Sophie CAILLON
(Chercheur CNRS)
Geo COPPENS
(Chercheur CIRAD)
Marc DELETRE
(Doctorante)
Malou DELPLANCKE
(Doctorante)
Edmond DOUNIAS
(Chercheur IRD)
Hicham HAOUANE
(Doctorant)
Hélène JOLY
(Chercheur CIRAD)
Ameline LEHEBEL-PERON
(Doctorante)
Doyle McKEY
(Professeur UM2)
Delphine RENARD
(Post-doc)
Caroline ROULLIER
(
Doctorante)
Abdoul-Aziz SAÏDOU
(Chercheur CIRAD)
Clélia SOLER
(Doctorante)
Gilbert TODOU
(Doctorant)
Hirokazu YASUOKA
(Chercheur Université Tokyo)

Ancien personnel

Adeline BARNAUD
(Chercheure IRD)
Christian LECLERC
(Chercheur CIRAD)
Mathieu LOURMAS
(Salarié ONG)     
Anne DUPUTIE    
(Post-doc CEFE)    
Benoît PUJOL
(Post-doctorant)     
Suresh GHIMIRE
(Chercheur)