We used genotyping-by-sequencing to investigate the evolutionary history of bere, the oldest barley variety still cultivated in Britain and possibly in all of Europe. With a panel of 203 wild and 401 cultivated barley accessions, including 35 samples identified as bere, we obtained filtered datasets comprising up to 1,946,469 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The beres formed two genetically-distinct groups, the larger of which included beres from Orkney and the Scottish Western Isles, as well as varieties not identified as bere from the Faroe Islands. This group of beres was distinct from other British barleys, but had a close genetic affiliation with Scandinavian accessions. Although the data were partly compatible with the traditional view that bere was introduced to Scotland by the Vikings during the eighth century AD, the evidence as whole suggested that the bere and Scandinavian barleys are sister groups descended from a more distant common progenitor, possibly dating to the Bronze Age when hulled barleys first become common in northern Europe. More recently, there has been gene flow from these beres into Polish barleys, possibly following export of grain to the Baltic region during periods when Orkney was under Norwegian or Danish rule. A second, smaller group of beres, which included a traditional Welsh variety, was genetically distinct from the main group and probably represents a more recent introduction of barley from central Europe. Our results emphasize the uniqueness of bere barley and its importance as a heritage crop and a potential source of germplasm for breeding programmes.
- Crop evolution