Introduction. There has been increasing interest in the domestication potential of indigenous fruit trees. Nevertheless, our understanding of how these species’ abundance and yield of fruit is altered by ecological conditions, which is critical to foresee realistic sustainable management plans, is limited. Materials and methods. We used local ecological knowledge, presence / absence data and quantitative methods to examine the effect of ecological conditions on the distribution, abundance and yields of tamarind trees (T. indica) across three ecological regions in Benin, West Africa. Results and discussion. Rural communities’ knowledge on the species’ ecological range was congruent with scientific findings. The natural distribution of tamarind individuals was limited to the Sudanian and the Sudano-Guinean regions and their density declined with increasing moisture, being highest (2 trees·km-2) in the Sudanian region and lowest in the Guineo-Congolian region (scarce). On the other hand, fruit and pulp mass and number of seeds per fruit varied significantly, being higher in the Guineo-Congolian wetter region. However, no significant variation occurred among ecological regions for estimated overall fruit yields per tree. This might indicate that tamarind trees tend to invest in a small number of very large fruits under wetter conditions and a very large number of small fruits under dryer conditions. Conclusion. The results showed that semi-arid lands would best suit T. indica domestication. Nevertheless, its productivity could be higher under wetter conditions. Because of its affinity for gallery forests, we recommend thorough studies on its capacity to survive the increasing drought in its current ecological range.
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