Biodiversity Science ›› 2018, Vol. 26 ›› Issue (4): 333-345.doi: 10.17520/biods.2017251

• Reviews • Previous Article     Next Article

The origin of crops in the Yangtze River Basin and its relevance for biodiversity

Yao Zhao1, Jiakuan Chen1, 2, *()   

  1. 1 Center for Watershed Ecology, Institute of Life Science, Nanchang University, Nanchang 330031
    2 Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Biodiversity Science and Ecological Engineering, Institute of Biodiversity Science, Fudan University, Shanghai 200438
  • Received:2017-09-14 Accepted:2018-02-06 Online:2018-09-11
  • Chen Jiakuan
  • About author:

    # Co-first authors

The agricultural civilization that originated in the Yangtze River Basin is an important part of Chinese civilization. Being one of the world-famous crop origin centers, the Yangtze River Basin is rich in biodiversity, and has bred many cultivated plants. This review has collected data of crops that originated in the Yangtze River Basin and information of plant remains found in Neolithic archaeological sites. By summarizing the environmental features and tracking the changes of vegetation since the Holocene in the Yangtze River Basin, we attempt to dissect the dynamics of plant use in this area and investigate the relationship between local cultivated plants and biodiversity. Our results indicate the agricultural civilization in the Yangtze River Basin greatly relied on rice production, and domesticated a large amount of fruit and aquatic vegetable crops, which reflects the adaptation and dependence to local subtropical evergreen broad-leaved forests and wetlands. When compared to other basins, the Yangtze River Basin is advantageous in allocation of ecological factors, and the characteristic of domesticated crops shows a typical feature of subtropical humid forest vegetation areas. Studying the natural and human factors related to crop domestication can help us to better understand the origin of agriculture civilization in the Yangtze River Basin. This work not only provides a reference for the conservation and utilization of plant genetic resources, but also plays a guiding role in promoting the construction of ecological civilization and sustainable development in the Yangtze River Basin.

Key words: Yangtze River Basin, crop, agricultural civilization, vegetation, climate, biodiversity


Comparisons between the number of four main crop types originated in Yangtze River Basin (gray bar) and those originated in China (white bar)"

Table 1

The domestication time of typical crops originated in the Yangtze River Basin"

驯化时间 Time of domestication (year BP) 参考资料 Reference
水稻 Rice 12,000-7,000 Fuller & Qin, 2010; Huang et al, 2012
荞麦 Buckwheat 7,000-4,000 Konishi et al, 2005
茶 Tea 3,000-2,000 Xia et al, 2017
苎麻 Ramie 4,000-3,000 Zhu et al, 2017
油茶 Oil-tea camellia < 1,000 Cui et al, 2016
油桐 Tung oil tree < 1,500 Zhang et al, 2015
莲 Lotus 3,000-2,000 Yang et al, 2013
菱 Water chestnut 3,000-2,500 Dong & Liu, 2008
柑橘 Orange 4,000-3,000 Dong & Liu, 2008
李 Plum 3,000-2,000 Dong & Liu, 2008
枇杷 Loquat 2,000-1,500 Wang et al, 2017
中国樱桃 Chinese cherry 3,000-2,000 Li et al, 2009
猕猴桃 Kiwifruit < 100 Huang & Liu, 2014

Table 2

A summary of archaeological remains statistics and production mode speculation for major archaeological sites in Yangtze River Basin (According to You, 2009; Da, 2010; Pan, 2011)"

Archaeological site
Age (year BP)
Plant remains
Animal remains
Mode of production
Middle and upper reaches of the Yangtze River
Three Gorges region, Dongting Lake and Jianghan Plain
10,000 稻谷、朴树籽
Rice and nettle tree seed
大量哺乳动物, 鸟类, 水生动物
Mammals, birds, and aquatic animals
采集与渔猎, 水稻种植
Gathering, fishing and hunting; rice cultivation
9,100-8,200 稻谷、莲子、菱角、薏苡
Rice, lotus seed, water chestnut and Job’s tears
采集与渔猎, 水稻种植, 家畜饲养
Gathering, fishing and hunting; rice cultivation; livestock breeding
8,000-7,000 稻谷
水牛, 猪, 鹿
Buffalo, boar and deer
原始农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎
Primitive farming; livestock breeding; gathering, fishing and hunting
8,000-7,000 稻谷、果核
Rice and fruit seeds
水牛, 猪, 鹿
Buffalo, boar and deer
原始农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎
Primitive farming; livestock breeding; gathering, fishing and hunting
6,300-5,300 稻谷
牛, 猪, 狗以及大量水生动物
Cattle, boar, dog and aquatic animals
水稻种植, 采集与渔猎
Rice cultivation; gathering, hunting and fishing
5,000-4,000 稻谷、粟、
Rice, millet and kiwifruit
Domesticated pig, dog and goat
稻作农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎, 纺织业发达
Rice farming; livestock breeding; fishing and hunting; textiles are developed
Archaeological site
Age (year BP)
Plant remains
Animal remains
Mode of production
The areas around the Poyang Lake
12,000 稻谷
Mammals, fishes, snails and mussels
Gathering, fishing and hunting
5,000-4,500 稻谷、粟
Rice and millet
Rice cultivation
5,000-4,500 稻谷、粟
Rice and millet
Rice cultivation
Lower reaches of the Yangtze River
The areas around the Hangzhou Bay and Taihu Lake
7,000-5,000 稻谷、橡子、菱角、芡实、慈姑、桃、南酸枣、葫芦、柿、紫苏
Rice, acorn, water chestnut, gorgon fruit, arrowhead, peach, axillary choerospondias fruit, gourd, persimmon and perilla
Dog, boar, deer, elephant, rhino, Milu-deer, monkey and fishes
稻作农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎, 出现纺织业
Rice farming; livestock breeding; gathering, fishing and hunting; textiles occurred
7,000-5,000 稻谷、橡子、菱角、桃、葫芦
Rice, acorn, water chestnut, peach and gourd
Buffalo, deer, boar, fox, musk, turtle, mussel, snail and fishes
稻作农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎, 纺织业发达
Rice farming; livestock breeding; gathering, fishing and hunting; textiles were developed
4,000 稻谷、小豆、苎麻、甜瓜子、南酸枣、桃、葫芦、菱角
Rice, legume, ramie, melon, axillary choerospondias fruit, peach, gourd and water chestnut
Buffalo, deer, boar, mussel, snail and fishes
稻作农业, 家畜饲养, 采集与渔猎, 纺织业发达, 出现丝织品
Rice farming, livestock breeding; gathering, fishing and hunting; textiles were developed; silks occurred

Table 3

The major crops of agricultural civilizations in different basins (Old World)"

Vegetable crop
Economic crop
Fruit crop
The Yellow River Basin, China
Setaria italica
Panicum miliaceum
Glycine max
白菜 Brassica rapa ssp. pekinensis
Allium tuberosum
Armeniaca vulgaris
海棠 Malus prunifolia
山楂 Crataegua pinnatifida
The Yangtze River Basin, China
Oryza sativa
荞麦 Fagopyrum esculentum
Allium chinense
蕹菜 Ipomoea aquatica
慈姑 Sagittaria trifolia
茭白 Zizania latifolia
苎麻 Boehmeria nivea
Morus alba
Camellia sinensis
柑橘 Citrus reticulata
猕猴桃 Actinidia chinensis
Prunus salicina
Armeniaca mume
Hordeum vulgare
Triticum aestivum
燕麦 Avena sativa
扁豆 Lablab purpureus
豌豆 Pisum
Vicia faba
洋葱 Allium cepa
大蒜 Allium sativum
芝麻 Sesamum indicum
亚麻 Linum usitatissimum
枣椰 Phoenix dactylifera
油橄榄 Olea europaea
Ficus carica
The Nile Valley
蚕豆 Vicia faba 芝麻 Sesamum indicum
亚麻 Linum usitatissimum
Ficus carica
The India River Basin

Oryza sativa
黄瓜 Cucumis sativus
丝瓜 Luffa cylindrical
茄子 Solanum
Spinacia oleracea
木棉 Bombax malabaricum
胡椒 Piper
Cucumis melo
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