Geographic and Anthropogenic Influence on Ecosystems

“Why does the white man have so much more cargo?” This was the question Jared Diamond set out to try and explain, all whilst giving analysis of the world’s inequality. His studying led him to believe that they first types of human groups that were traceable were considered “hunter/gatherer” combos (which ironically were the same type of people who inhabit New Guinea, where he was studying this inequality). This led to the gathering, and ultimately domesticating of certain crops, and thus the world’s first farmers were born.

By natural selection, the humans involved in farming subconsciously domesticated crops, by choosing the healthiest of the fruit, the best looking seeds, etc. But it was where these farmers were located that ultimately decided the area’s economic and population growth. According to Diamond, it was just plain “geographic luck” as to where the prosperous nations were located, due to fertile soil. For example, rice in Asia became and is still the most grown crop, and along with the rice came cities like Hong Kong, Seoul, etc.

But how about domesticated animals? The first domesticated animals were sheep and goats, around 9000 years ago. Again, due to the antropogenic influence, humans chose the strongest and highest yield animals to keep, thus possibly altering the animals we have domesticated today. And again, due to the geographic influence, certain areas with high fertility, such as the Fertile Cresent (which had fertile lands for crops AND animals) was inhabited and civilizations were born.

But how did the idea of domestication become? Was it pure luck, that someone found a neatly planted field of “wild” crops? No, we evolved. We took the idea of planting seeds in a plowed field, and growing enough food to fend for the winters. Humans realized plowing fields all day hurt their backs, so they domesticated animals large enough to pull plows. In Russell’s article, he states, “By changing the environments in which organisms live, we have changed the selective regimes in which they evolve.” Isn’t this completely true in this sense? By planting seeds in plowed fields, by feeding and containing animals, haven’t we as humans been changing the environment for these organisms, either plant or animal, thus having them evolve differently? You wouldn’t find a square mile field of crops like you do now, or a barn full of thoroughbred horses all dressed up for the next event at a horse show. Crops wouldn’t be able to survive like that without human help, nor would half ton animals be so susceptible to humans braiding their manes and tails if none of this domestication happened.

And yet, how far is too far? Humans have a hard time at stopping something they love. For example, there will always be a demand for oil, until of course the world is dry. The exploitation of the world’s resources has become the largest flaw of the human population. Stiner says in her Energy and Ecosystems chapter that  hoarding behaviors occur within the entire animal kingdom. Well aren’t humans just the prime example of this? Yes they are, as proved by the essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” by Garret Hardin. We all know we don’t want to deplete the oil of the world, but we all need to look out for ourselves don’t we?

So syncing that up with the domestication of animals, how does this stat sound to you? The US alone euthanize more than 4 million cats and dogs every year! If that’s not hoarding, I don’t know what is. Having so many animals that we just kill off the ones we don’t want? The demise of so many animals has come at the hand of the human. Examples are large cats, whose body parts are literally flaunted as wealth and power in our society. Stiner says, “domestication has become one of the main vehicles of the expansion of the human footprint.” Maybe if we didn’t domesticate these dogs and cats in the first place, we wouldn’t deal with having to kill 20+ million of them back in the 70’s like we did. Then again, this is all hypothetical, and maybe the domestication of these animals was inevitable? Ultimately, the human impact, as well as the geographic location, were the 2 largest factors in developing ecosystems and the economies that followed.

7 thoughts on “Geographic and Anthropogenic Influence on Ecosystems

  1. Interesting thoughts about animal use. To what extent are we responsible for the animals we have domesticated? Is it wrong that we let those dogs and cats die, or is it part and parcel of having domesticated them to begin with? Having domesticated animals, even simply as a co-evolutionary process in which we had little true choice, as Stiner and Harnik seem to argue, must we continue to care for these animals? Ethically, do we owe domestic animals anything? Do they owe us anything in return? Are the deaths of those dogs and cats worse than the deaths of all the animals we use for food production?
    I suppose I am getting more philosophical than this course is meant to be, but as a vegetarian and an animal science major (a field with a large focus on meat production), I have thought a lot about these sorts of questions.

    • I share your concern about the moral implications of domestication and the relationships between “companion species,” Camilla. One can argue that neither side owes the other anything — livestock populations thrive due to human husbandry, and looking just at the numbers, the fortunes of domesticated felines and canines are considerably rosier than their wild relatives. Even with all of the killing (for food or as a “solution” to overpopulation), the domestic relationship seems to be working for humans and animals. On the other hand, I am compelled by what I see as the commonalities between humans and many domesticated animals in terms of behavior, the ability to experience pain, the potential for inter-species communication, and innate dignity. This gives me pause and obligates me to consider my relationships with these animals carefully and try to identify a morally acceptable way to live in the world with them. Please keep the philosophical comments coming!

  2. I really liked how you brought in a lot of outside material and ideas into your blog. The examples of human hoarding you presented dealing with oil consumption and the euthanization of animals really highlight our seemingly natural tendency to produce and use far more than we need. It seems strange that humans have exploited this common theme of nature to such an extent. It has become such an issue that it is even considered a disease and there are television shows highlighting individuals who take it to the extreme. Perhaps it is just due to humans massive population, but it seems weird to me that other animal populations haven’t taken hoarding to such an extreme. Stiner touched on the fact that many species exhibit hoarding behaviors as you mentioned; however, I can’t think of or find any examples that come even close to human levels.

  3. Alex,
    You make a very strong argument for how human ingenuity (plus some luck) and geographic location allowed for domestication evolution. It’s true that the human domestication of plants and animals allowed us to progress as civilizations since more energy could be used for various processes.

    To answer the question, “how far is too far” we must, I think, determine and discuss the conscious intention. There may be a point in evolutionary history where clear, rational decisions were make to produce certain outcomes. If these can be determined – can responsibility be placed on those parties to provide better outcomes? Or is it impossible to determine intention – leaving evolutionary chaos to govern the way thing are?

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