It would be interesting to look at the diets of cultures that do not include dairy as a staple in their diet, and compare their genetics to our own. For example, most east Asian dishes include very little milk or milk products, if any at all. I had never thought about this until I couple of years ago, when my family hosted a Thai student for a year. She was not lactose-intolerant, but if she ate the amount of milk or milk-products (cheese, ice cream, yoghurt) as her US peers, she would get sick. She told us she almost never ate dairy at home, because it wasn’t really a big part of her country’s diet. She was able to build up a tolerance, however, over the year that she spent with us, which I find interesting if most of our ability to process lactose is based on genetics.
I also wonder about the types of milk not from cows- how is our body affected by the milk and cheese from goats and llamas?
I wouldn’t consider Inyo to be as undomesticated as you seem to. Many breeds of domesticated dogs display traits such as howling instead of barking, and I’ve know dogs personally that hoard food and other items. To me, Inyo’s behavior is closest to that of an untrained domesticated dog- not surprising, given that Terrill didn’t seem to try too hard to train her once she had mastered a few basic behavioral commands. Even my own dog will ignore myself and my family sometimes if he’s focused on his own agenda. I think we’d need to look at the behaviors of other wolf-dogs to really characterize them as more similar to dogs, wolves, or cats- Inyo’s personality may be just that.
You’re completely right about how backwards it seems that so many people picture the common ancestor of wolves and dogs as the mirror image of modern day wolves- especially given the amount of variety in domestic dogs! All those variations came from the same basic lines of DNA, with just a few mutations along the way. The common ancestor could look more like a breed domestic dog than a wolf- we may never know (however, it’s unlikely given the amount of artificial selection we’ve used to shape dogs). Here’s another brief article about the recent research regarding the genomics of dogs, wolves, and finding their common ancestor which Dr. Nelson pointed out: http://www.ibtimes.com/dogs-wolves-evolved-common-ancestor-dog-domestication-more-complex-previously-thought-1543518
Some of human conflict stems from abstract concepts- religion and ideals- which animals obviously don’t have the intelligence capacity to understand, much less wage war over. But territorial disputes make up another large basis of war in the human world, and that is definitely something animals could relate to as well. It’s not as obvious to us because in the grand scheme of things, the outcome of which pride of lions gets pride rock isn’t going to affect the rest of the world like a nuclear war will. There are also animal disputes over mates, which is no strange thing in the human world either. However, it’s interesting to note that the things animals fight over are necessary for survival- food, mates, territory. While humans fight over these essentials as well, some of our largest battles have been over disagreements in policy, religion, and opinion. We may be the most intelligent species, but obviously that has its drawbacks when it means we’ll sacrifice thousands of lives for something that, in the end, doesn’t really matter.
Humans do have such an interesting amalgamation of both characteristic predator and prey traits. The tendency to give birth at night certainly goes back to our ancestral days avoiding predators. So do our “fight-or-flight” neurological tendencies, and our tendency to live in large communities. But there are many human traits that align more with a predatory phenotype; front facing eyes, altricial young, and higher intelligence, to name a few. I wonder which of these characteristics were “selected” for as our ancestors bred and tried to survive- human beings seem to have the perfect combination of genes.
Society is a human construct, so even if it was larger social forces that “domesticated” us as a species, doesn’t that still lead back to us?
I think it’s very possible that animals have the potential to develop their own culture. In a class I took on animal behavior, we studied the research of a group of scientists who observed behaviors in natural populations of chimpanzees across Africa. They found that certain behaviors had developed in some groups, while not in others, and vice-versa. For example, some populations participated in extensive communal grooming, while in other populations grooming only occured in small family groups. I was skeptical while reading this and thought perhaps there were more substantial reasons to different behaviors developing in different groups, such as different benefits depending on habitat and resources, however the article we read went on to describe many specific behaviors which had the same probability of being equally useful to two different groups of chimps, and yet only developing in one. It would be interesting to learn what would happen if the scientists “taught” one group of chimps the behaviors of another; would they reject the new culture, even though it might be useful, or accept it? It might yield new insights into the psychology behind historical dissensions in human society based solely on cultural differences.
I completely agree with you that domesticated animals have in a sense co-evolved with human society. It’s interesting to note, however, that this co-evolution is different from others we might find in the natural world. For one thing,(as tanneraustin has already pointed out), since humans were pretty much evolved physically and genetically by the time they got around to domesticating animals, the evolution on our side of the spectrum was mostly in terms of society and perhaps intelligence. Another important difference between this type of co-evolution and others is that usually co-evolution is a sort-of arms race between two competing species- either predator and prey, or parasite and host, etc. In this case, humans are augmenting the process of evolution in domestic animals by selectively diversifying their species and ensuring their continued existence. Not to say that co-evolution is never in other instances for the benefit of mutualistic relationships, it’s just more uncommon. It would be interesting to think about where some of these species might be had humans not had such a large hand in their evolution- it’s pretty obvious (at least according to Jared Diamond) where we would be without them!
“I wondered if these actions are against nature.” This is such a great topic for debate! After all, every species is biologically programmed to do whatever it takes to survive and reproduce, so why shouldn’t human beings adhere to that? Other animals compete with each other for resources and survival; is that really any different? Just because we’re “winning” the biological arms race, does that mean we should stop? Should the extremity of our own advantages and effect on the rest of the world really matter? I’ve studied both arguments, and have my own opinions and beliefs, but I’m very interested to see how yours develop as a result of this class!
It’s easy to see why Dunn’s statement that we chose to claim our place at the top of the food chain is controversial. From a biological standpoint, I find this statement a bit misleading. Every species is internally hardwired to live in such a way that promotes it’s own survival and propagation of future generations. Chimps did not “choose” to be the apes living in the jungle instead of the apes building cities–genetics and natural selection simply didn’t work out in their favor. It’s only natural for a species to use whatever advantages it has to out-compete every other living creature for survival. The positive feedback loops associated with this principle generally ensure success. We made the same choices any other species does with regards to ensuring our own survival–we were just lucky enough that our DNA usually came out on top.