Extending Darwin’s analogy: Bridging differences in concepts of selection between farmers, biologists, and plant breeders

Research paper by David A. Cleveland, Daniela Soleri

Indexed on: 01 Jun '07Published on: 01 Jun '07Published in: Economic Botany


Darwin developed his theory of evolution based on an analogy between artificial selection by breeders of his day and “natural selection.” For Darwin, selection included what biologists came to see as being composed of (1) phenotypic selection of individuals based on phenotypic differences, and, when these are based on heritable genotypic differences, (2) genetic response between generations, which can result in (3) evolution (cumulative directional genetic response over generations). The use of the term “selection” in biology and plant breeding today reflects Darwin’s assumption—phenotypic selection is only biologically significant when it results in evolution. In contrast, research shows that small-scale, traditionally-based farmers select seed as part of an integrated production and consumption system in which selection is often not part of an evolutionary process, but is still useful to farmers. Extending Darwin’s analogy to farmers can facilitate communication between farmers, biologists, and plant breeders to improve selection and crop genetic resource conservation.