Phytolith data from Poyang Lake, southern China, indicate that significant natural and human-induced vegetational changes have occurred in the middle Yangtze River valley, the likely hearth of rice (Oryza sativa L.) domestication, during the Late Pleistocene and Holocene periods. During the Late Pleistocene (from >13,500 to ca. 10,500 yr B.P.) the climate was cooler and drier than today's. Oryza appears to have been a natural component of the vegetation at that time, but may not have been well adapted to the glacial climatic conditions. The early Holocene climate may have been wetter and more markedly seasonal that at present, and wild Oryza species may have been distributed further north than seen today. By 4000 yr B.P., rice agriculture appears to have been well developed in the middle Yangtze River Valley. Environmental factors such as atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the seasonality of precipitation and temperature in addition to overall cooler and drier Pleistocene climates may have significantly influenced human exploitation of Oryza during the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene in southern China. © 2000 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.