Pollen-based reconstruction reveals the impact of the onset of agriculture on plant functional trait composition

Annegreet Veeken* (Corresponding author), Maria J. Santos, Suzanne McGowan, Althea L. Davies, Franziska Schrodt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
64 Downloads (Pure)


The onset of agriculture improved the capacity of ecosystems to produce food, but inadvertently altered other vital ecosystem functions. Plant traits play a central role in determining ecosystem properties, therefore we investigated how the onset of agriculture in Europe changed plant trait composition using 78 pollen records. Using a novel Bayesian approach for reconstructing plant trait composition from pollen records, we provide a robust method that can account for trait variability within pollen types. We estimate an overall four-fold decrease in plant size through agriculture and associated decreases in leaf and seed size. We show an increase in niche space towards the resource-acquisitive end of the leaf economic spectrum. Decreases in leaf phosphorus might have been caused by nutrient depletion through grazing and burning. Our results show that agriculture, from its start, has likely been gradually impacting biogeochemical cycles through altered vegetation composition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1937-1951
Number of pages15
JournalEcology Letters
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Holocene
  • climate
  • early agriculture
  • plant functional traits
  • pollen data
  • Ecosystem
  • Plant Leaves
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Agriculture
  • Pollen
  • Plants
  • Plant Dispersal

Research theme

  • Sustainable water and land use


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