Life in a cold climate: the adaptation of cereals to new environments and the establishment of agriculture in Europe

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Advanced Grant (AdG), SH6, ERC-2013-ADG

Project acronym: ADAPT

Project: Life in a cold climate: the adaptation of cereals to new environments and the establishment of agriculture in Europe

Researcher (PI): Terence Austen Brown

Host Institution (HI): The University of Manchester, United Kingdom

Start date: 2014-02-01, End date: 2019-01-31

Summary: «This project explores the concept of agricultural spread as analogous to enforced climate change and asks how cereals adapted to new environments when agriculture was introduced into Europe. Archaeologists have long recognized that the ecological pressures placed on crops would have had an impact on the spread and subsequent development of agriculture, but previously there has been no means of directly assessing the scale and nature of this impact. Recent work that I have directed has shown how such a study could be carried out, and the purpose of this project is to exploit these breakthroughs with the goal of assessing the influence of environmental adaptation on the spread of agriculture, its adoption as the primary subsistence strategy, and the subsequent establishment of farming in different parts of Europe. This will correct the current imbalance between our understanding of the human and environmental dimensions to the domestication of Europe. I will use methods from population genomics to identify loci within the barley and wheat genomes that have undergone selection since the beginning of cereal cultivation in Europe. I will then use ecological modelling to identify those loci whose patterns of selection are associated with ecogeographical variables and hence represent adaptations to local environmental conditions. I will assign dates to the periods when adaptations occurred by sequencing ancient DNA from archaeobotanical assemblages and by computer methods that enable the temporal order of adaptations to be deduced. I will then synthesise the information on environmental adaptations with dating evidence for the spread of agriculture in Europe, which reveals pauses that might be linked to environmental adaptation, with demographic data that indicate regions where Neolithic populations declined, possibly due to inadequate crop productivity, and with an archaeobotanical database showing changes in the prevalence of individual cereals in different regions.»

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