Evolutionary history of wild barley
Studies of Hordeum vulgare subsp. spontaneum, the wild progenitor of cultivated barley, have mostly relied on materials collected decades ago and maintained since then ex situ in germplasm repositories. We analyzed spatial genetic variation in wild barley populations collected rather recently, exploring sequence variations at seven single-copy nuclear loci, and inferred the relationships among these populations and toward the genepool of the crop. The wild barley collection covers the whole natural distribution area from the Mediterranean to Middle Asia. In contrast to earlier studies, Bayesian assignment analyses revealed three population clusters, in the Levant, Turkey, and east of Turkey, respectively. Genetic diversity was exceptionally high in the Levant, while eastern populations were depleted of private alleles. Species distribution modeling based on climate parameters and extant occurrence points of the taxon inferred suitable habitat conditions during the ice-age, particularly in the Levant and Turkey. Together with the ecologically wide range of habitats, they might contribute to structured but long-term stable populations in this region and their high genetic diversity. For recently collected individuals, Bayesian assignment to geographic clusters was generally unambiguous, but materials from genebanks often showed accessions that were not placed according to their assumed geographic origin or showed traces of introgression from cultivated barley. We assign this to gene flow among accessions during ex situ maintenance. Evolutionary studies based on such materials might therefore result in wrong conclusions regarding the history of the species or the origin and mode of domestication of the crop, depending on the accessions included.