Notable: Ancient Australians and baobab dispersal

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Notable paper: Rangan H, Bell KL, Baum DA, Fowler R, McConvell P, et al. (2015) New Genetic and Linguistic Analyses Show Ancient Human Influence on Baobab Evolution and Distribution in Australia. PLoS ONE 10(4): e0119758. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119758

Synopsis: Rangan and colleagues investigate whether ancient Aboriginal Australian people were responsible for dispersing the boab tree (Adansonia gregorii) across its current geographic range in northwestern Australia. Although tree was not formally cultivated, its fruit has long been consumed by local people. The authors studied the pattern of gene flow in the tree’s phylogeography, finding it to be very similar to the pattern of loan words for the tree among Australian languages, suggesting that the practices of ancient people were responsible for the tree’s current distribution sometime after the Last Glacial Maximum.

Interesting because: Baobab species have been used by humans in Africa, Madagascar and Australia. Previous work has shown that African baobab distributions have been influenced by human agency, but people have assumed that ancient people weren’t involved in dispersal of the Australian species. The new result shows the extent that hunter-gatherers may have been intentionally dispersing useful plant species in Australia.