A study examines the origins of house mice in eastern Mediterranean hunter-gatherer societies. The decreased mobility of hunter-gatherers during the late Pleistocene altered the relationship between human and animal communities. However, little is known about how changes in human mobility influenced selection dynamics among species that benefited from human settlements. To examine the effects of fluctuations in hunter-gatherer settlements on mouse population dynamics in the eastern Mediterranean, Lior Weissbrod, Thomas Cucchi, and colleagues compared the shapes of modern and fossilized molar teeth in house mice (Mus musculus domesticus) and short-tailed mice (M. macedonicus) from more than 200,000 to 10,200 years ago. The authors used two modern geographically overlapping mouse species from six Kenyan settlements of the Maasai, a modern semi-nomadic group, as a reference. The authors suggest that M. domesticus formed a beneficiary relationship with humans around 15,000 years ago, and the dominance of M. domesticus over M. macedonicus fluctuated with human mobility shifts. For example, at one site M. domesticus displaced the wild M. macedonicus during heavy human occupation, was outcompeted when human mobility increased, and reached a population balance with M. macedonicus that was comparable to the balance between the reference mouse species. According to the authors, the first long-term hunter-gatherer settlements may have transformed ecological interactions and food webs, enabling house mice that benefited from human settlements to outcompete wild mice and establish durable populations. - Read at PNAS
Article #16-19137: “Origins of house mice in ecological niches created by settled hunter-gatherers in the Levant 15,000 y ago,” by Lior Weissbrod et al.