When I read and watch things like this I tend to try and find one word that I think sums up a good portion of the phenomena. In this case, I think “mutualism” is the best word for domestication in “Guns, Germs, and Steel”. Humans domesticate goats, and even wheat. The humans weed out the less desirable varietals of wheat and the goats eat the remainder, thus increasing the dependency of the goats on humans, engendering a stronger generation of wheat (which means stronger people) and supporting an alternative source of nourishment at the same time. Thus the cycle repeats and benefits all species involved.
I have to wonder how the worldwide populations of certain species (Elephants, for instance) would be different if they were capable of being domesticated. I imagine there are quite a few endangered species that, if domesticated in the past, would not be so scarce today because their lives would be more stable, more controlled. I also find it interesting that some species do very well in captivity while others, such as pandas, rarely deliver healthy cubs when behind bars. Is it just stress?
It’s also worth noting that domestication changes these animals as well. Silkworms, for instance, have been domesticated for thousands of years. Over time, the moth form of the silkworm actually lost its ability to fly because it simply did not need it in captivity. Today, silkworm moths that can fly are considered very rare. The trained dependence on humans has made it so that this species would not be able to survive in the wild. I would also guess, however, that the silkworm’s being an insect and therefore reproducing much faster than mammals will also cause it to adapt to changes in its “Norm” environment much faster than say, a goat, which may not be all that different today than it was in the time of hunter gatherers.
What really captured my interests in the readings for this week were their implications on the present day. I mentioned this briefly already, but in the last hundred years or so, we’ve begun to do something that we either didn’t try to do before or didn’t have the tools to do: namely preserving endangered species. This interference with natural selection is, in my eyes, something new for us. If we’re successful in saving, for instance, the tiger, how will that species change? Does saving an endangered species necessitate domestication or dependence as in the case of the silkworm? If its wild habitat is gone (Which, along with being hunted for their pelts, seems to be the main reasons their population is dwindling), the only alternatives for this animal will be to adapt to other environments or die out. If people intervene in this natural process, the tigers that can adapt to life in some form of captivity will survive and reproduce, and those that cannot, ie the wilder tigers, will die out. Isn’t that a form of domestication? A change in the demographic of a species brought on by human intervention?
I realize as well that a key aspect of domestication is this idea that the relationship between humans and the animal is mutually beneficial. I can’t see any tangible benefit for humans saving tigers; they won’t be plowing fields or doing heavy lifting. But what about the satisfaction for the groups trying to save them? Does that sort of intangible benefit even count?
I could be completely off the mark in my theorizing on this subject. I may well be over thinking this to an extreme degree, so please tell me if you think I’m treading into a different area of discussion.