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Crop domestication

The origin of agriculture radically changed the course of human history.  In recent years, evidence from archaeology and molecular genetics has shed new light on this major evolutionary transition, and forced us to re-think fundamental questions about why and how agriculture originated. The answers to these questions are critical to understanding the co-dependence of modern humans and our crop species.

This project is an inter-disciplinary collaboration, and has been tackling these questions using an experimental approach.  Our focus has been primarily on the process of specialization on a limited range of food resources, which occurred during the transition from plant gathering to cultivation.

We have been particularly interested in the impacts of rising atmospheric CO2 immediately before the origin of agriculture, and the ecological traits of food plants that made them amenable (or not) to cultivation, and subsequently to domestication. This ecological selection process has been a hot topic ever since Darwin’s work on the subject.

We have a long-standing collaborations in this work with Glynis Jones and Mark Rees.

We are looking to develop this area of research, and welcome enquiries from prospective students and postdocs – see Opportunities.

Selected recent publications in this area

Milla, R., Bastida, J.M., Turcotte, M.M., Jones, G., Violle, C., Osborne, C.P., Chacón-Labella, J., Sosinski Jr., Ê.E.,Kattge, J., Laughlin, D.C., Forey, E., Minden, V., Cornelissen, J.H.C., Aimaud, B., Kramer, K., Boenisch, G., He, T., Pillar, V.D., Byun, C.(2018). Phylogenetic patterns and phenotypic profiles of the species of plants and mammals farmed for food. Nature Ecology and Evolution2, 1808-1817. link + blog

Preece, C., Clamp, N., Warham, G., Charles, M., Rees, M., Jones, G., Osborne, C.P. (2018) Cereal progenitors differ in stand harvest characteristics from related wild grasses. Journal of Ecology, 106, 1286-1297. link

Preece, C., Livarda, A., Wallace, M.P., Charles, M., Christin, P.-A., Jones, G., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P. (2015) Were Fertile Crescent crop progenitors higher yielding than other wild species that were never domesticated? New Phytologist, 207, 905-913. link

Simpson, K.J., Wade, R.N., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P., Hartley, S.E. (2017) Still armed after domestication? Impacts of domestication and agronomic selection on anti-herbivore defences in cereals. Functional Ecology, 31, 2108-2117. link

Kluyver, T.A., Jones, G., Pujol, B., Bennett, C., Mockford, E.J., Charles, M., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P. (2017) Unconscious selection drove seed enlargement in vegetable crops. Evolution Letters, 1, 64-72. link

Preece, C., Livarda, A., Christin, P.-A., Wallace, M., Martin, G., Charles, M., Jones, G., Rees, M., Osborne, C.P. (2017) How did the domestication of Fertile Crescent grain crops increase their yield? Functional Ecology, 31, 387-397. link

Cunniff, J., Jones, G., Charles, M., Osborne, C.P. (2017) Yield responses of wild C3 and C4 crop progenitors to sub-ambient CO2: a test for the role of CO2 limitation in the origin of agriculture. Global Change Biology, 23, 380-390. link

Cunniff, J., Charles, M., Jones, G., Osborne, C.P. (2016) Reduced plant water status under sub-ambient pCO2 limits plant productivity in the wild progenitors of C3 and C4 cereals. Annals of Botany, 118, 1163-1173. link

Milla, R., Osborne, C.P., Turcotte, M.M., Voille, C. (2015) Plant domestication through an ecological lens. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 30, 463-469. link