- Telegraph op-ed on agricultural biodiversity. Yeah, you read that right.
- No, avocado does not come from the Aztec’s word for testicles. It’s the other way around.
- Why honey is a keeper.
- Mapping the hell out of pigs.
- Photo database to help tell bananas apart.
- Deconstructing the Tragedy of the Commons.
- The C footprint of your diet.
- “We can spare 50 percent and share the rest.”
- Cave man caviar.
- Whiskey with that?
- Potato wild relatives and food security.
- Cassava and food security. No word on its wild relatives.
- Wales finds a new apple.
- Maybe someone will take a cool picture of it.
- Potatoes were always for the masses. Ok, but not sure anyone ever thought otherwise, though.
- Grapes, on the other hand…
- The cuisines of Africa get their shot.
- Some of those will go well with craft beer.
- Agricultural heritage list gets saffron and argan. Bet they go together well.
- Maybe wild kiang tea will get there too someday.
- Or the Aboriginal Australians. Not really agriculturalists, but still.
- Is this alpaca exploitation? Maybe you can take the promotion of agricultural biodiversity too far.
- Will the Svalbard Global Seed Vault qualify one day? Ten years on, still going strong. And return to top.
By investigating llama poo, a new study just published in the Journal of Archaeological Science by a team from University of Sussex and the Natural History Museum, may not only be shedding light on the collapse of the Inca Empire, but on megafaunal extinctions too. The lead author, Alex Chepstow-Lusty, who has blogged us for us before, has sent us the following. Thanks, Alex, and keep the crap posts coming. Simon Crowhurst, Earth Sciences, Cambridge University drew the cartoon.
It has been said that the triple whammy of guns, germs and steel led to the rapid collapse of the Inca Empire with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1530s. This was probably the first proper contact between people of the Old World and those of South America for over 10,000 years. As a result, within a few years, the Inca Empire, that stretched from what is today the Colombian border down to the middle of Chile, and might have contained over 10 million people, had dissolved, with a large proportion of the population rapidly succumbing to introduced illnesses. Historical accounts, which started at this time as the Inca probably had no writing, even report that their llamas, which were vital to the economy as sources of wool, transport and dung for fertilizer, contracted diseases and were buried in large pits.
A team from the University of Sussex and the Natural History Museum has been looking at this process in a slightly odd way in a paper that has recently been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
As first author Alex Chepstow-Lusty says, “Such a classic catastrophic collapse of both indigenous people and their domesticated animals with the sudden arrival of a destructive new culture would be expected to have made a major impact on the environment. Yet, surprisingly, archaeologists do not have many techniques in their tool box for accurately revealing the changing relationship through time between the numbers of humans and their livestock, whether here in the Andes or elsewhere around the world.”
In recent years, however, a method has been heralded where counts are made of the spores of a fungus called Sporormiella that grows on large herbivore excrement. Deposited in the layers of sediments, particularly of lakes, the abundance of these dispersed, well-preserved spores has been used to provide a history of livestock in the landscape, and even supposedly reveal the extinction of megafauna in different parts of the world. However, unlike megafaunal extinctions which might be linked to climate change, the collapse of the Inca was indisputably caused by the arrival of Europeans in Peru a little less than 500 years ago, but the details of it have never been tested using Sporormiella spores.
As co-author, Michael Frogley says “There have been an increasing number of dissenting studies that question whether Sporormiella fungal spores are really telling the true story of large herbivores on the landscape: one of the problems being that the spores are dispersed only short distances of a few metres close to the ground, attaching themselves in glutinous little packets to the vegetation, subsequently eaten by livestock during grazing and appearing again with the excrement in which they germinate if the conditions are right. But most of the sites investigated are large lakes. Just how do the spores get deposited in the centres of these large lakes where the sediment cores are extracted from? And that is why other techniques need to be used to check these results.”
So, the team investigated a little lake — more of a deep pond really — called Marcacocha, close to Cuzco, the religious and administrative heart of the Inca Empire. At the height of the Empire, caravan trains of up to a thousand llamas using a nearby trading route would stop at the lake to graze on the surrounding pasture.
Also found in the lake sediment layers with Sporormiella spores were oribatid mites (relatives of spiders). Across a period spanning the last 1200 years, the abundances of both spores and mites were compared in the sediment layers: the Sporormiella spores are around 40 times smaller than the oribatids, which themselves are only about 0.5 mm in length.
As co-author Anne Baker of the Natural History Museum notes “Aquatic oribatid mites belonging to the genus Hydrozetes were most common. Their numbers clearly traced the rise and rapid collapse of the Inca Empire, as reflected in changes in size of the passing llama caravans. Hydrozetes even showed a peak when the Spaniards introduced their animals from the Old World, like cows, horses and sheep, and a dip when these animals disappeared because there was no-one to care for them after smallpox arrived around 1719 and killed nearly all the surviving indigenous people in the area.”
“Changing food supply is a strong candidate for causing the fluctuations in numbers. These mites feed on decomposing plants, which could have included dung ending up in the lake from the llamas and later from the introduced livestock. Also, the mites might have responded to differing amounts of dung and urine draining into or being deposited in the water over time.”
However, as Alex Chepstow-Lusty observed “Sporomiella spores bizarrely showed no such signal as Hydrozetes — only showing high abundances when lake levels were already low and they were washed in with other material, or when the lake filled up with mud, and subsequently deposited peat. This allowed animals to graze and defecate close to the centre of the lake, with the spores of the fungus only having to travel a short distance.”
“This shows that this technique may be a blunt instrument, and rather gives information about animals getting closer to the centre of the lake to defecate, rather about animal numbers themselves.”
And as Michael Frogley continues, “Sporormiella is a bit like Goldilocks. The fungus will only grow on the excrement if it is not too dry or not too wet, but has just the right amount of moisture. Getting these ideal conditions may be a bit of a problem for achieving its reproductive cycle.”
“We should also not forget that llamas defecate communally, and that the excrement, which is called llama beans, is a vital part of the Andean economy when dried, providing one of the best fertilizers in the world, and is much valued at high altitudes for cooking and heating where trees are thin on the ground.”
As Anne Baker concludes, “Mites are useful in archaeological analyses because their ecology evidently has not changed through history, so, by identifying them, we can get a picture of conditions when they were alive. More, however, still needs to be known about the identity of fossil mites and the ecology of modern ones. We have looked at one small lake in Peru, but the technique we have used does appear very promising and could be applicable elsewhere.”
- Developing naturally stress-resistant crops for a sustainable agriculture. Can’t help thinking there will be a trade-off.
- Quinoa Abiotic Stress Responses: A Review. Case in point?
- A physical and genetic map of Cannabis sativa identifies extensive rearrangement at the 2 THC/CBD acid synthase locus. At last, the prospect of better weed.
- In vitro anthelmintic effect of Vicia pannonica var. purpurascens on trichostrongylosis in sheep. From Turkish folk medicine to the big time?
- Should plant breeders be denied of genetic resources from protected areas? Not if you put it that way. Maybe they should be valued? There’s a way to do that…
- Estimating in situ conservation costs of Zambian crop wild relatives under alternative conservation goals. Put it out to tender.
- The genetic diversity of local african chickens: A potential for selection of chickens resistant to viral infections. No word on their monetary value, though.
- Agro-morphological diversity of Nepalese naked barley landraces. Lots of diversity, little used as yet by breeders.
- Generating Farm-Validated Variety Recommendations for Climate Adaptation. One word: tricot.
- Reference genome sequences of two cultivated allotetraploid cottons, Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium barbadense. 13 QTLs for better fibre quality.
- Ancient Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) Varieties of Tuscany Have High Contents of Bioactive Compounds. Better than commercial varieties, apparently.
- Biodiversity and yield under different land-use types in orchard/vineyard landscapes: A meta-analysis. Land sharing works.
- Small Ruminants as a Source of Financial Security Among Women in Rural Southwest Nigeria. Better with education, extension and cooperation.
- Analysis of genetic diversity and structure in a worldwide walnut (Juglans regia L.) germplasm using SSR markers. W Europe/N America vs E Europe/Asia.
- David Bond and Jean Picard: Two pivotal breeders of faba bean in the 20th century. Bond and Picard?
- Status and factors influencing on-farm conservation of Kam Sweet Rice (Oryza sativa L.) genetic resources in southeast Guizhou Province, China. In the end of women and the old.
- Comprehensiveness of conservation of useful wild plants: An operational indicator for biodiversity and sustainable development targets. Lots to do. Lots.
- The East Asiatic region of crop plant diversity. Southwest China especially rich, with its 44 species of kiwifruit, for example.
- The Sorghum QTL Atlas: a powerful tool for trait dissection, comparative genomics and crop improvement. Maybe this will get the stuff used a bit more.
- Domestication and crop evolution of wheat and barley: Genes, genomics, and future directions. Much progress recently, but high-resolution identification of crop-wild introgressions remains a gap.
- Real-time PCR, a great tool for fast identification, sensitive detection and quantification of important plant-parasitic nematodes. Results in 3 hours.
- Gut microbiome transition across a lifestyle gradient in Himalaya. Composition (but not diversity) can change in a generation when foragers transition to agriculture.
- Are the old International Board for Plant Genetic Resources (IBPGR) base collections available through the Plant Treaty’s multilateral system of access and benefit sharing? A review. Well, about 80% of them may be.
- Speed breeding in growth chambers and glasshouses for crop breeding and model plant research. Hacking the breeders’ equation: one giant leap…
- The drivers and methodologies for exploiting wild Cajanus genome in pigeonpea breeding. Sources of high protein, CMS, self-pollination, and resistances to various biotic stresses; but may need to rethink the secondary genepool.
- Development and Application of High-Density Axiom Cajanus SNP Array with 56K SNPs to Understand the Genome Architecture of Released Cultivars and Founder Genotypes. Top 6 founders accounted for 50% of the genetic base of released cultivars. Could use more of the above, in other words.
- Genomic analysis of dingoes identifies genomic regions under reversible selection during domestication and feralization. They’re reverting to wolves, genetically speaking.
- Hongyacha, a Naturally Caffeine-Free Tea Plant from Fujian, China. Well, wild tea relative anyway.
- An EST-SSR based genetic linkage map and identification of QTLs for anthracnose disease resistance in water yam (Dioscorea alata L.). One QTL looks promising.
- Global assessment and mapping of changes in mesoscale landscapes: 1992–2015. Main changes were forest→agriculture, followed by agriculture→forest.
- Quantitative Genetics and Genomics Converge to Accelerate Forest Tree Breeding. Great potential, on the brink, just around the corner…
- Genome Editing in Trees: From Multiple Repair Pathways to Long-Term Stability. Great potential, on the brink, just around the corner…
- Whole-genome landscape of Medicago truncatula symbiotic genes. There’s always something else.
- Genebank genomics highlights the diversity of a global barley collection. IPK’s, that is, and that’s 22,000 strong. Let the GWAS begin. Including for whisky-related traits, of course.
- A polyploid admixed origin of beer yeasts derived from European and Asian wine populations. And beer-related.
- Genetic diversity and population structure of a mini-core subset from the world cowpea (Vigna unguiculata (L.) Walp.) germplasm collection. There are three broadly geographic clusters, and the mini-core is representative of overall diversity, in Africa at least.
- Identification of candidate domestication‐related genes with a systematic survey of loss‐of‐function mutations. Fancy methods lead to doubling of possible domestication genes in soybean to 110.
- Social Valuation of Genebank Activities: Assessing Public Demand for Genetic Resource Conservation in the Czech Republic. Willingness to pay is $9 per sample. But this is unpacked in a guest post by Nik.
- Gene bank scheduling of seed regeneration: Interim report on a long term storage study. Maybe someone can tell me what’s new here?
- Functional phenomics: An emerging field integrating high-throughput phenotyping, physiology, and bioinformatics. Again, what exactly is new here, apart from the word pheme?
- Xanthomonas Wilt of Banana (BXW) in Central Africa: Opportunities, challenges, and pathways for citizen science and ICT-based control and prevention strategies. Technology is not enough.
- Beyond individuals: Toward a “distributed” approach to farmer decision‐making behavior. And even if it were enough, adoption is a whole ‘nother thing…
- Dietary Diversity: Implications for Obesity Prevention in Adult Populations: A Science Advisory From the American Heart Association. As currently defined, dietary diversity does not necessarily mean healthy eating.
- Modern Wheat Varieties as a Driver of the Degradation of Spanish Rainfed Mediterranean Agroecosystems throughout the 20th Century. Under traditional organic management, older varieties have similar yields to modern varieties, plus more biomass both above and below ground, making for better soils.
- Peculiarly pleasant weather for US maize. Adaptation to warmer climates accounts for 28% of yield increases since 1981. It won’t last, see below.
- Increase in crop losses to insect pests in a warming climate. Losses to insects will increase by 10 to 25% per degree Celsius of warming for wheat, rice, and maize.
- Metabolite variation in the lettuce gene pool: towards healthier crop varieties and food. Tasty lettuce is possible.
- Genome sequences of two diploid wild relatives of cultivated sweetpotato reveal targets for genetic improvement. Carotenoid biosynthesis alleles identified.
- Climate change stimulated agricultural innovation and exchange across Asia. Climate models suggest that about 3,500 years ago Central Asia and Tibet cooled, and 2,000 years ago China followed suit, in both cases leading to shifts in crops.
- Intensification for redesigned and sustainable agricultural systems. Depends on building social capital first.