Contributions Of Animal Domestication

As plants and animals underwent domestication, humans acquired the power to alter their ecosystem in ways that favored their immediate needs. The balance of animal life was modified either by domestication and directed evolution or by discouraging the presence of wild animals that preyed on crops and herds. Arable areas were extended by deforestation and irrigation. Increased local production of food encouraged population growth and the formation of stable settlements. Archaeological evidence indicates that, at first, a substantial portion of animal food still came from wild animals, but hunting pressure and increasingly intensive agriculture gradually diminished local wild animal populations.

The association of humans with wild animals was long-standing and undoubtedly led to identification of species that were amenable to domestication. A herding instinct and a proclivity for imprinting on humans may have been important. The discovery of hoof prints of goats and sheep in the clay of a prehistoric inhabited village (Ganj-Dareh) that flourished around 7000 b.c. in the mountains of present-day western Iran provided evidence that no longer were these humans dependent on wild animals for meat.[5] Through conscious or unconscious selection, the anatomy, behavior, and productivity of these sheep and goats were modified. Not only did they provide meat and hides, as did their wild relatives, but selection for production of wool or milk added further to their societal value. Comparable changes occurred in horses and water buffalo as they were domesticated. They could not only be used for meat or milk, but could also be ridden or harnessed to ploughs and other devices that eased the physical burdens of soil preparation, planting, and harvest. Horse-mounted cavalrymen proved particularly intimidating in battle.

There are notable differences between geographical regions in the domesticated species that are present. These differences relate to the wild species that were indigenous to the region, to physiologic tolerance of the environment by their domestic counterparts, and in some regions, to religious traditions governing acceptability of particular species as food. Although there are cultural differences within and between countries in the uses of animals, their domestication enriched human society by providing companionship, recreation, materials needed for clothing, readily available food, and power to assist in laborintensive tasks. Much of modern medical technology was derived through research with dogs, pigs, calves, and sheep. Porcine cardiac tissue has been used to replace failing valves in the human heart, and researchers now study transgenic pigs as potential organ donors for humans with terminal organ dysfunction.[7] Unfortunately, the increasing density of human populations also has been associated with the advent of epidemic diseases, some of which had their origins in, or were spread by, domestic animals.[1]

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