Evolutionary and food supply implications of ongoing maize domestication by Mexican campesinos

Mauricio R. Bellon, Alicia Mastretta-Yanes, Alejandro Ponce-Mendoza, Daniel Ortiz-Santamaría, Oswaldo Oliveros-Galindo, Hugo Perales, Francisca Acevedo, José Sarukhán

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


Maize evolution under domestication is a process that continues today. Case studies suggest that Mexican smallholder family farmers, known as campesinos, contribute importantly to this, but their significance has not been explicitly quantified and analysed as a whole. Here, we examine the evolutionary and food security implications of the scale and scope under which campesinos produce maize. We gathered official municipal-level data on maize production under rainfed conditions and identified campesino agriculture as occurring in municipalities with average yields of less than or equal to 3 t ha-1. Environmental conditions vary widely in those municipalities and are associated with a great diversity of maize races, representing 85.3% of native maize samples collected in the country. We estimate that in those municipalities, around 1.38 × 1011 genetically different individual plants are subjected to evolution under domestication each season. This implies that 5.24 × 108 mother plants contribute to the next generation with their standing genetic diversity and rare alleles. Such a large breeding population size also increases the total number of adaptive mutations that may appear and be selected for. We also estimate that campesino agriculture could potentially feed around 54.7 million people in Mexico. These analyses provide insights about the contributions of smallholder agriculture around the world.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20181049
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1885
StatePublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Evolutionary services
  • Food security
  • Genetic diversity
  • Production environments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Environmental Science
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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