The insular ecology and palaeoenvironmental impacts of the domestic goat (Capra hircus) in Mediterranean Neolithization
Thomas P. Leppard & Suzanne E. Pillar Birch In M. Ghilardi, F. Leandri, J. Bloemendal, L. Lespez & S. Fachard (eds) 2016. Géoarchélogie des îles de Mediterranée, Paris: 47-56.
The Mediterranean islands presented substantial challenges to prehistoric colonists, not least their typically dry environments, low-elevation/high-relief geology, and small average size that discriminated against demographically secure communities. The introduction of the Neolithic “package” of domesticated plants and livestock along with ground stone tool technology and ceramics is often assumed to have been central in the adaptation of human communities to these island environments. The exact ecological consequences of the introduction of domesticates for semistable island biotas, and the impact pathways through which these consequences were affected, has only rarely been considered in detail. Here, we suggest that the introduction of livestock to the Mediterranean islands during the Early to Middle Holocene (11.7 ka bp – 4.2 ka bp), and especially the introduction of the domestic goat, would have had profound ecosystem effects.
We consider the insular ecology of Capra hircus and suggest that its introduction into Quercus-dominated Mediterranean environments would have resulted in dramatically increased predation on plant genera that were not adapted for ovicaprid herbivory. This would have driven a series of corresponding changes, including the sheet erosion of topsoils and ecological release in competitor taxa. These changes – possibly including localized extinctions – may possibly have been more substantial than those effected via direct human agency.