How many domesticated species - thousands?

  • Thread starter Hernik
  • Start date
101
2

Main Question or Discussion Point

Hi!

Does anyone of you know of an estimate of how many biological species humans have domesticated - I mean everything from silkworm to chicken, yeast, lactic acid bacteria, rye, corn, horse, fruit fly, shrimp, zebra fish and jellyfish - any organism that we bread or culture for a purpose?

Thanks, Henrik
 

Answers and Replies

Buzz Bloom
Gold Member
2,076
356
Hi Henrik:

Have you search in Wikipedia?

Regards,
Buzz
 
russ_watters
Mentor
19,021
5,176
Hi!

Does anyone of you know of an estimate of how many biological species humans have domesticated - I mean everything from silkworm to chicken, yeast, lactic acid bacteria, rye, corn, horse, fruit fly, shrimp, zebra fish and jellyfish - any organism that we bread or culture for a purpose?

Thanks, Henrik
Define "domesticated" because I can only think of a half dozen and only one of the ones you listed would qualify.
[edit]
The wikipedia article on the subject defines "domestic" animals broadly to basically include any animal held and bred in captivity, which strikes me as a definition so broad as to be pointless. So if you want to go by that there would be hundreds or thousands. To me, though "domestic" should mean an animal bred and trained/trainable to have a non-wild relationship with humans.
 
Last edited:
jim mcnamara
Mentor
3,659
1,898
Years ago I took a class - Evolution under Domestication, part Plant/Animal Geography and part Economic Biology. Domestication was defined: 'the process of selectively breeding wild species to make the organism easier to cultivate or for simpler husbandry, and more productive in terms of the use of the organism'.

Domestication takes a long timeframe, we, today, are on the big payoff end of that process.

Some examples: Wild Lactuca (lettuce) species. None of the extant varieties of lettuce look anything like the compass plant they were originally derived from. And none of the species cultivars will grow and compete in the wild against their wild cousins. Bananas and taro are examples of species that no longer grow in the wild and would go extinct without people managing them, because they no longer produce seeds, and require human intervention in planting new individuals.

There are approximately 80,000 species of plants that produce something humans can eat. Circa 200 of those species exist as domesticated cultivars. Why? Because, basically, domesticating the plant failed. Usually because of species properties like: hard seed, seed dormancy, parts of the plant are toxic (parts of rhubarb,a species that made the grade, are not edible due to oxalates in the leaves. It was selected, I think, because it grows really well in montane environments), special pollination requirements (like figs and fig wasps: no wasps == no new fig trees). We never domesticated the Rhinoceros - anyone who tried probably got stomped or gored. The Bos genus - yak and cattle - are social animals and live in groups, so wild individuals responded pretty well to human control.

The species with problems like almonds (cyanide producing compounds in almond seeds of wild species), rhubarb and others got chosen and selected. Why? - a really large payoff, or somebody somewhere luckily found a few individuals that were not so awful, so the process of taming the animal or plant was practical to undertake.

Honey bees are extremely useful. They provide pollination for melons as well as honey. The downside of apiculture is painfully obvious.

Here is a list of fully domesticated animals, meaning mostly that they would have issues surviving and reproducing in the wild -
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domesticated_animals

Check out the pet hedgehog - interesting!

Finally there are many more plants and animals that are partially domesticated. I am not going to try to search for any more on that, it is too imprecise, IMO.

Your final tally: ~200 plant species, less than 100 animals. Note that only 30 plants provide almost all of the calories for humans worldwide.
The top 30 plants provide 95% of the worlds food calories - see table 1 in: www.eolss.net/Sample-Chapters/C10/E5-02.pdf

If you are interested you should read 'Guns Germs and Steel' Jared Diamond. It explains how geography "gave" us our domesticated species.
 
101
2
Thanks. Well, I am not sure about a definition. Wikipedia's "Animals bred and held in captivity" is certainly not broad enough for me. That would exclude plants, fungus and bacteria. Domestication is maybe not the right word. What I have in mind is an estimate of the number of species humanity use for a purpose (Production, entertainment, food, medicine, work in laboratories and so on). That would include species created for a purpose by humans or hunted or collected in the wild. Extremely broad definition, I know - but that's what I would like to know: How many species do we grab and use on a regular basis, dead or alive. How many species serve humanity because we make them do so. Google search didn't help me. Thought maybe someone here at the forum might have come across such an estimate.
 
101
2
We never domesticated the Rhinoceros - anyone who tried probably got stomped or gored.
Yes! Still we breed then in the ZOO for entertainment and educational purposes.

It is very interesting that so few plant species deliver so many calories to humanity.

If you are interested you should read 'Guns Germs and Steel' Jared Diamond. It explains how geography "gave" us our domesticated species.
Thanks! I love that title.
 
jim mcnamara
Mentor
3,659
1,898
It is very interesting that so few plant species deliver so many calories to humanity.
Biologically this is not a great idea. The pdf I linked above echoes that sentiment. Here is why by example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

The potato famine was primarily the result of depending very heavily on a single potato variety - the lumper. A fungal disease found a perfect and huge food source. Everywhere potato plants - a monoculture is the correct term. So the disease spread widely, about 20% of the people in Ireland starved or emigrated. Estimates are 1 million deaths in the early 1840's.

Worldwide, we have vast moncultures of wheat, rice and other very important crops. Crops important in terms of calories provided to the population. So, if a killer rice blight struck parts of Africa or Asia, a similar famine could easily result. Most of the famines we see to day have a strong political component as well as the monoculture problem related to poor agricultural practices - similar to the Dust Bowl - a failure to apply practices to reduce aeolian damage to soils.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_Bowl
 

Related Threads for: How many domesticated species - thousands?

Replies
3
Views
1K
Replies
3
Views
677
  • Last Post
Replies
21
Views
26K
Replies
9
Views
13K
  • Last Post
Replies
15
Views
4K
  • Last Post
Replies
1
Views
1K
Replies
5
Views
118K
Replies
2
Views
2K
Top