Fruit Domestication in the Near East

Shahal Abbo, Avi Gopher, Simcha Lev-Yadun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Following the emergence of farming societies in the Neolithic Near East, a number of fruit trees were domesticated and became an integral part of the mixed farming economy of the region. These include emblematic crops such as olive, grape vine, date palm, fig, and pomegranate, as well as almond and carob. Unlike the Near Eastern founder grain crops that are thought to have originated in a relatively small “core area” and spread from there as a harmonic agro-economic package, Near Eastern fruit trees were adopted from several geographically remote and ecologically distinct areas: olive and carob in the east Mediterranean, grape vine and fig in the trans-Caucasus, pomegranate and almond in central Asia, and date palm in lower Mesopotamia. Following domestication, and owing to their reproductive biology (open pollination), extensive (bidirectional) domesticated–wild gene flow is thought to have had a major role in the emergence of new cultivars and in shaping the adaptation pattern of these species both under domestication and in nature. The reproductive biology and growth pattern of these fruit trees suggest that conscious (rather than unconscious) selection played a major role in the adoption of these taxa from the wild, in the development of special agro-techniques required to ensure sustainable production, and in developing methods for processing and long-term preservation of the fruit yield. Some authors see a phenotypic continuum between a wild erratic fruit yield pattern (often masting), alternate bearing, and a regular fruiting pattern typical of some domesticated trees, but we consider masting behavior and alternate bearing as two distinct developmental phenomena, probably controlled by different genetic systems that do not represent a genuine evolutionary continuum. The adoption of fruit trees necessitated and was mediated by a number of sociocultural adaptations that include a higher level of delayed return, long-term land allocation, and resource and labor investment in processing and storage facilities. As such, fruit tree domestication could have occurred only after the domestication of annual grain crops and the establishment of farming-based communities across West Asia.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)325-378
Number of pages54
JournalPlant Breeding Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2015 by Wiley-Blackwell. All rights reserved


  • Near East
  • almond
  • carob
  • conscious selection
  • date
  • fig
  • grape
  • olive
  • pomegranate
  • tree domestication


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