Project Outline

The project seeks to establish a new method for reconstructing ancient plant population sizes that will be applicable to thousands of plant species worldwide.

We intend to do this through an innovative fusion of two established paleoproxies - fossil pollen and ancient DNA.

The method will employ state-of-the-art single-cell sequencing technologies to pioneer high-throughput DNA-based identification and counting of fossil pollen grains, delivering population size estimates for many plant species simultaneously.

Project Objectives

1. Develop a method of high-throughput DNA-based identification and counting of single fossil pollen grains that delivers population size estimates for hundreds of plant species simultaneously.

2. Evaluate the performance of the new method against standard palaeoecological methods, namely pollen morphology and ancient environmental DNA.

3. Apply the new method to answer an important and long-standing ecological question that cannot be comprehensively addressed using the existing methods.

Project Significance

Our project aims to develop a method that is likely trigger the next revolution in palaeoecology as well as facilitate a whole array of new research inquiries and cross-pollinations in plant sciences.

Specifically, the new method should: i) expand the nature and scope of ecological and evolutionary questions that can be addressed using Earth’s sedimentary archives, ii) help bridge the gap between palaeoecology and other, species-focused biological sciences such as modern ecology and conservation biology, and iii) bring advances to other scientific fields that rely on quantitative pollen analysis such as aeroallergens and invasive species monitoring, forensics and agriculture.