The pastoral effect: Niche construction, domestic animals, and the spread of farming in Europe

Sarah B. McClure

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Niche construction theory provides a framework to analyze the environmental effects of changing pastoral practices. In Europe, domesticated herd animals facilitated the expansion of farming by extending the spatial framework of early farming communities, produced milk for caloric security of pioneering farmers, and were partners in coevolutionary relationships that resulted in changes in the human genome and the spread of diseases. Domestic herd animal management practices, however, were not uniform during the Neolithic, and variations in livestock management, use, and environment affected the degree of extensive and intensive human niche construction among early farmers. This paper explores the biological and cultural effects of pastoralism for the establishment of new agricultural niches by examining biological and ecological underpinnings of both domesticated animals and their management strategies. It is suggested that strategies varied in their niche outcomes and ecological legacies, highlighting the roles domestic herd animals played as mechanisms of niche construction for the spread of agriculture. These pastoral effects had implications for the environmental legacies experienced by subsequent human generations, and results provide a fresh avenue of investigation for researchers working on the ecologies of agropastoral societies through time and space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)901-910
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent anthropology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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