Olive diversity in the Mediterranean basin

The olive (Olea europaea L., Oleaceae) is one of the first domesticated trees with the fig tree and the date-palm. Today, the area devoted to olive growing worldwide is estimated at 8.8 Mha mainly located in the Mediterranean Basin where 98% of the present-day world's olive oil is produced (IOC source).

Over 2000 cultivars have been described, exhibiting significant levels of variation in oil content, fruit size and adaptation to local environmental conditions, but this number is underestimated since there is a lack of information on minor local varieties. Wild olives, usually named oleasters, are seed-propagated by birds and small animals, while domesticated forms are clonally propagated through cutting and grafting.

Population genetic studies have demonstrated the existence of two highly differentiated oleaster genetic pools in the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean Basin. Oleaster might have persisted in these two areas during the Pleistocene climatic glaciations and colonised all the Mediterranean Basin since the Neolithic. “Modern” cultivars cluster according to their geographic origin and were selected both in eastern and western regions.

The IOC collection in Tessaout (Morocco)

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