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by Vincent Battesti

There are several ways to focus on the biodiversity of a place and I’ve tried several in this fieldwork of Siwa oasis.

  1. The first is to identify all species cultivated in the irrigated cropland of Siwa. The classification used by the local community to order this diversity can be also interesting,
  2. The second is to take an interest in all these non cultivated plants like weeds, for example, and especially those recognized and named by the local population and often used; o take an interest in all these non domesticated animals like birds, with an inventory of the local avifauna in comparison with the local knowledge,
  3. The third is take an interest in a species, acknowledged as such by the classificatory botany science, to explore its rich intraspecific diversity: here, it was the study of the different date palm “varieties” or “cultivars”.

The first two approaches are being written.
The third is a research in progress.

 The intraspecific diversity of the Siwa date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.).

This approach required a long fieldwork in Egypt, ethnological work and sampling work (in Siwa, and around Siwa in the desert, in the oases abandoned at present time: see the sampling map below).

This approach has also requested a very long bibliographical work (mainly conducted in New York [1]) and an interdisciplinary collaboration with colleagues from the Institute of Botany of Montpellier (Université Montpellier II Sciences et Techniques du Languedoc, Centre of Bio-Archaeology and Ecology, UMR 5059).
Samples collected around Siwa were used for different purposes: to feed a PhD thesis on the origins of the date palm with data [2], also a Master’s thesis on the archaeobotanical tool invented around the date palm seed morphology [3] and collaborative research.

I designed my work in two stages: the first was to write a (long) article [code name Siwa #0] on the agrobiodiversity of the date palm as it is possible to do it from ethnographic and ethnobotanical methods; this was the object of a first publication (The agrobiodiversity of the Date Palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) in Siwa Oasis (Egypt): between what is said, written, and forgotten) published in the journal Revue d’ethnoécologie). It was also the object of a lecture (in 2012 at Oxford university, UK). The results are already very interesting.

The second stage of this work [code name Siwa #1] was to write down, collectively (with an evolutionary biologist) that time, an article for Human Ecology journal which draw some conclusions about theses multidisciplinary expertise around the date palms of Siwa: what can we say about the combination of ethnographies and morphogenetic analyzes? See: Date palm agrobiodiversity (Phoenix dactylifera L.) in Siwa oasis, Egypt: combining ethnography, morphometry, and genetics.

A sequel to that first article co-written with Muriel Gros-Balthazard was a paper with nearly the same authors [code name Siwa #2] in Evolutionary Applications journal, providing pioneering results on the diversity of cultivated and uncultivated date palm in Siwa, still thanks to our integration of ethnography and population genetics, promoting the understanding of the interplay between diversity management in the oasis (short-time scale), and the origins and dynamic of diversity through domestication and diversification (long-time scale). See: On the necessity of combining ethnobotany and genetics to assess agrobiodiversity and its evolution in crops: a case study on date palms (Phoenix dactylifera L.) in Siwa Oasis, Egypt.

In the meantime, an important article was published, but my contribution was less significant: The Discovery of Wild Date Palms in Oman Reveals a Complex Domestication History Involving Centers in the Middle East and Africa.

Afficher Échantillonnage de dattiers de la région de Siwa (Égypte)/ par Vincent Battesti sur une carte plus grande
Phoenix dactylifera = Palmier-Dattier.
Redouté, Pierre Joseph, 1759-1840 — artist / Duhamel du Monceau, M., 1700-1782 — Author
Traité des arbres et arbustes que l’on cultive en France en pleine terre, 7 v. [1801-1819]: 498 col. pl. ; 42 cm.
(This is actually the Egyptian doum palm, of course). | (Il s’agit en fait du palmier doum d’Egypte, bien entendu).

This is not a date palm, Phœnix dactylifera L., unlike the information given by the captation of this beautiful drawing, botany and scholarly-looking: the fruits of the date palm compose clusters of small fruits, its palms are feather-shaped (pinnated leaves) and not fan-shaped (palmed leaves) like on this image, and its stipe (the “trunck”) is never divided.
These features suggest that this is most likely a representation of a doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica (L.) Mart., 1838).

[1thanks to my affiliation with NYU, research made with the support of Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies, NYU (New York University)

[2Gros-Balthazard, Muriel, 2012 — Sur les origines, l’histoire évolutive et biogéographique du palmier-dattier (Phoenix dactylifera L .): l’apport de la génétique et de la morphométrie. Doctorat PhD, Université Montpellier II Sciences et Techniques du Languedoc, École doctorale: Systèmes Intégrés en Biologie, Agronomie, Géosciences, Hydrosciences et Environnement (SIBAGHE), Montpellier, 377 p.

[3Ogéron, Clémence, 2012 — Caractérisation morphométrique et ethnographique de l’agrobiodiversité du palmier dattier (Phoenix dactylifera L.) dans l’oasis de Siwa (Égypte). Master I thesis, Université Montpellier II Sciences et techniques du Languedoc, Centre de Bio-Archéologie et d’Écologie (UMR 5059) de l’Institut de Botanique de Montpellier, Montpellier, c, 17 pl., 24 p.