Genetic Diversification and Dispersal of Taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott)

Taro (Colocasia esculenta (L.) Schott) is widely distributed in tropical and sub-tropical areas. However, its origin, diversification and dispersal remain unclear. While taro genetic diversity has been documented at the country and regional levels in Asia and the Pacific, few reports are available from Americas and Africa where it has been introduced through human migrations. We used eleven microsatellite markers to investigate the diversity and diversification of taro accessions from nineteen countries in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and America. The highest genetic diversity and number of private alleles were observed in Asian accessions, mainly from India. While taro has been diversified in Asia and the Pacific mostly via sexual reproduction, clonal reproduction with mutation appeared predominant in African and American countries investigated. Bayesian clustering revealed a first genetic group of diploids from the Asia-Pacific region and to a second diploid-triploid group mainly from India. Admixed cultivars between the two genetic pools were also found. In West Africa, most cultivars were found to have originated from India. Only one multi-locus lineage was assigned to the Asian pool, while cultivars in Madagascar originated from India and Indonesia. The South African cultivars shared lineages with Japan. The Caribbean Islands cultivars were found to have originated from the Pacific, while in Costa Rica they were from India or admixed between Indian and Asian groups. Taro dispersal in the different areas of Africa and America is thus discussed in the light of available records of voyages and settlements.