Inter- and Intraspecific Edible Plant Diversity of the Tének Milpa Fields in Mexico

  • C. HeindorfEmail author
  • J. A. Reyes–Agüero
  • A. van’t Hooft
  • J. Fortanelli–Martínez
Original Article


Traditional land use systems are often rich in crop diversity. However, complete inter- and intraspecific data are scarce, limiting our understanding and underestimating the diversity of plant genetic reservoirs. This study attempted to characterize the total edible plant diversity of the milpas, or polyculture maize-based fields, managed by Tének communities in México. In 41 milpas belonging to 33 farmers in three localities at different altitudes, 191 edible plant types were inventoried, comprising 84 species that include 140 variants and 51 species with no variants. Diversity varies between and within localities. Only 8.4% of the diversity is shared among the localities and, on average, 61.2% of the total richness is managed by single farmers. The intermediate altitude has higher diversity, including 67.5% of the total richness. Crop population numbers are low and highly variable. To contribute to the interpretation and application of results, a proposed method to identify priority crops, sites, and farmers is presented. This study shows, once again, that indigenous farming communities are key actors for the use and conservation of crop genetic diversity. More detailed studies such as this may evidence much larger managed crop diversity than currently is acknowledged.

Key Words

Agrobiodiversity altitude conservation ethnobotany Huasteca richness 

Los sistemas agrícolas tradicionales son a menudo ricos en diversidad de cultivos. Sin embargo, datos inter– e intra–específicos completos son escasos, limitando nuestro entendimiento y subestimando la diversidad de reservorios genéticos. Este estudio buscó caracterizar la diversidad total de las plantas comestibles en las milpas, policultivos basados en maíz, manejadas por comunidades Tének en México. En 41 milpas de 33 agricultores en tres localidades en diferentes altitudes, se inventariaron 191 tipos de plantas comestibles, comprendiendo 84 especies con 140 variantes y 51 especies sin variantes. La diversidad varía entre y dentro de las localidades. Solamente 8.4% de la diversidad es compartida entre las localidades y 61.2% de la riqueza es manejada por agricultores individuales. La altitud intermedia presenta la mayor diversidad, incluyendo 67.5% de la riqueza total. Los números poblacionales de los cultivos son bajos y altamente variables. Para contribuir a interpretar y aplicar los resultados, se presenta un método para identificar cultivos, sitios y agricultores prioritarios. Este estudio muestra, una vez más, que las comunidades agrícolas indígenas son actores clave para uso y conservación de la diversidad genética de cultivos. Más estudios detallados como este podrán evidenciar una diversidad de cultivos mucho mayor que lo que actualmente se reconoce.

Palabras Clave

Agrobiodiversidad altitud conservación etnobotánica Huasteca riqueza 



We thank taxonomists Mr. José García and Dr. Eleazar Carranza of the Desert Zone Research Institute Herbarium for supporting us with species identification. We thank Maestra Gudelia Cruz, Alejandra Balderas, and Señorina Reyes for their help with the list of Tének names. We are grateful to all the key informants and households in Poytzen, Jol Mom, and Unión de Guadalupe for participating in this research. Special thanks to Matilde, Don Olegario, Don Plácido, Don Benigno, María Antonia, and Marie, student assistants, and Agosto and Ike.

Funding Information

This work was supported by a grant from CONACYT (CB–2016–180193), a CONACYT scholarship for doctoral studies and the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí through the “Fondo de apoyo a la investigación” (C18–FAI–05–58.58), and the “Programa de Movilidad Nacional e Internacional de Estudiantes de Posgrado.”

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© The New York Botanical Garden 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Desert Zone Research InstituteAutonomous University of San Luis PotosíSan Luis PotosíMexico
  2. 2.Faculty of Social Sciences and HumanitiesAutonomous University of San Luis PotosíSan Luis PotosíMexico

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