Reductions in hunter-gatherer mobility during the Late Pleistocene influenced settlement ecologies, altered human relations with animal communities, and played a pivotal role in domestication. The influence of variability in human mobility on selection dynamics and ecological interactions in human settlements has not been extensively explored, however. This study of mice in modern African villages and changing mice molar shapes in a 200,000-y-long sequence from the Levant demonstrates competitive advantages for commensal mice in long-term settlements. Mice from African pastoral households provide a referential model for habitat partitioning among mice taxa in settlements of varying durations. The data reveal the earliest known commensal niche for house mice in long-term forager settlements 15,000 y ago. Competitive dynamics and the presence and abundance of mice continued to fluctuate with human mobility through the terminal Pleistocene. At the Natufian site of Ain Mallaha, house mice displaced less commensal wild mice during periods of heavy occupational pressure but were outcompeted when mobility increased. Changing food webs and ecological dynamics in long-term settlements allowed house mice to establish durable commensal populations that expanded with human societies. This study demonstrates the changing magnitude of cultural niche construction with varying human mobility and the extent of environmental influence before the advent of farming.
- house mouse
- Natufian hunter-gatherers
- niche construction
Weissbrod, L., Marshall, F. B., Valla, F. R., Khalaily, H., Bar-Oz, G., Auffray, J-C., ... Cucchi, T. (2017). Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago. PNAS, 114(16), 4099-4104. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1619137114