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Dawn of farming sparked speed-evolution in weeds

Dawn of farming sparked speed-evolution in weeds

New Scientist

Image: Arthur Chapman

It didn’t take long. Just a few thousand years after humans began to domesticate crops, a wide variety of weeds had adapted to exploit the new farmlands – with some species seeming to have evolved, like crops, to be completely dependent on cultivated land.

Given the chance, weeds will take root in most agricultural settings. Today their presence lowers crop yields by 10 per cent globally, causing losses of tens of billions of dollars in profits each year.

But weed woes are nothing new. Ehud Weiss at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan, Israel, and his colleagues studied ancient seeds, fruits and other plant remains recovered from Atlit-Yam, a 9000-year-old coastal settlement now submerged a few metres below the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel. The material was waterlogged by seawater, meaning it was extremely well preserved.

The remains, which date to a time just 2000 years after farmers sowed their first seeds, include durum wheat, figs, chickpeas (garbanzos) and herbs. Alongside these important crops there is evidence of at least 35 weed species – suggesting that it didn’t take long for opportunistic herbaceous plants to adapt to our agricultural revolution. Read more on newscientist.com…