Domesticated animals and biodiversity: Early agriculture at the gates of Europe and long-term ecological consequences

Sarah B. McClure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The human effects that dominate current ecological and climatic regimes have deep roots. The origins and spread of farming during the Holocene are increasingly viewed as a turning point for human-environmental interaction, health, nutrition, disease, and increasing social complexity. This paper summarizes current evidence for the spread of domesticated animals into the Balkans - the gateway to Europe and a current biodiversity hotspot. The introduction of domesticated plants and animals 8000 years ago was the first documented intentional introduction of new species by humans and initiated a long history of forest clearance, habitat fragmentation, and new ecological relationships that resonate in current discussions of conservation and biodiversity. It is argued that cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs were likely genetically diverse upon introduction and contributed to an initial net increase in animal species biodiversity; that these taxa had distinctive ecological histories of interbreeding with wild species and feralization; and that despite local indicators, the lack of clear evidence for widespread environmental impacts of the grazing animals was likely a result of scale. The historical ecology of the Balkans helps characterize the resiliency and limitations of European landscapes, highlights questions regarding ancient biodiversity, and may prove useful for current understandings of conservation issues. Research into early farming creates baselines for questions of biodiversity, geomorphological change, and the creation of new biota. Studies that focus on ecological histories and human impacts on past environments are becoming more important in order to fully grasp the speed, intensity, and scope of Anthropocene developments today.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)57-68
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Dec 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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