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About the Project

About the Project

Insect pollination is crucial for crop yield and global food production, but currently threatened by several factors. While agricultural intensification may threaten these pollinators today, different forms of human action in the past may have been important in enhancing them. The ‘Crops, People and Pollinators’ (or ‘Buckbee’) project explores the dynamics of crop-pollinator-human relationships through time. We know a reasonable amount about the history of bee management for wax and honey. We know much less about the relation between the ecology of bees in the past and the spread of those crops that depend upon them. Were the spread and intensification of agriculture since plants were domesticated linked with bee management and rising bee populations?

Research on the origins and spread of crop plants has focused on those self- or wind-pollinated crops, principally the cereals, that were domesticated earliest and dominate the world’s global economy today. Previous work in the FOGLIP project focused on the spread of these major cereals. Buckwheat is among several economic plants, including a number of major fruits and vegetables, whose spread and viability has been dependent upon the parallel ecology and biology of pollinator taxa such as bees. That key interaction in the past remains largely unexplored.

Our study system, buckwheat and honeybees, is being analysed by an interdisciplinary approach using archaeobotany, pollen science, ecological modelling, genomics, archaeology and geochemistry. The project aims to infer the past distributions and population size trends of buckwheat and honeybees, relate these to climate, and research human management of honeybees, in China and western Eurasia.

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Bee on flowering buckwheat. Credit: Wikimedia Commons