Conservationists of crop genetic resources have feared that in situ conservation was not viable for agriculture precisely because of changes resulting from introduction of new varieties of existing crops, new crops, and new farm practices. In addition, conservation within farming systems necessarily implies a constantly changing crop population resulting from the processes of crop evolution. Even though in situ conservation of crop genetic resources is now generally understood to be dynamic, there are few examples of how evolution takes place in farmers fields. This study describes several changes in maize landraces in four communities along an altitude transect in Central Mexico (1200 to 2400 masl). While true modern varieties have not been widely adopted in the study region, farmer management results in numerous changes in maize landrace populations. Five types of dynamic management were observed: (1) purposeful hybridization between traditional and modern maize types, (2) possible creation of a new maize landrace by directional selection of the progeny of hybridization between two traditional landraces, (3) displacement of a local landrace by the introduction of a modern variety and a non-local landrace, (4) maintenance of stable populations of a locally dominant landrace, and (5) market-driven selection for a minor variety. We concur that in situ conservation of crops must be conceived as an open process where the objective is not to maintain historic varieties or static genetic conditions. Rather, in situ conservation of crops is totally in the hands of the farmer, although interventions may be designed to influence farmers' management of agrobiodiversity.
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Vol. 57 • No. 1