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Concept: Domestication


Although previous studies of horses have investigated their facial expressions in specific contexts, e.g. pain, until now there has been no methodology available that documents all the possible facial movements of the horse and provides a way to record all potential facial configurations. This is essential for an objective description of horse facial expressions across a range of contexts that reflect different emotional states. Facial Action Coding Systems (FACS) provide a systematic methodology of identifying and coding facial expressions on the basis of underlying facial musculature and muscle movement. FACS are anatomically based and document all possible facial movements rather than a configuration of movements associated with a particular situation. Consequently, FACS can be applied as a tool for a wide range of research questions. We developed FACS for the domestic horse (Equus caballus) through anatomical investigation of the underlying musculature and subsequent analysis of naturally occurring behaviour captured on high quality video. Discrete facial movements were identified and described in terms of the underlying muscle contractions, in correspondence with previous FACS systems. The reliability of others to be able to learn this system (EquiFACS) and consistently code behavioural sequences was high-and this included people with no previous experience of horses. A wide range of facial movements were identified, including many that are also seen in primates and other domestic animals (dogs and cats). EquiFACS provides a method that can now be used to document the facial movements associated with different social contexts and thus to address questions relevant to understanding social cognition and comparative psychology, as well as informing current veterinary and animal welfare practices.

Concepts: Domestication, Donkey, Muscle contraction, Equidae, Wild horse, Equus, Psychology, Horse


How wolves were first domesticated is unknown. One hypothesis suggests that wolves underwent a process of self-domestication by tolerating human presence and taking advantage of scavenging possibilities. The puppy-like physical and behavioural traits seen in dogs are thought to have evolved later, as a byproduct of selection against aggression. Using speed of selection from rehoming shelters as a proxy for artificial selection, we tested whether paedomorphic features give dogs a selective advantage in their current environment. Dogs who exhibited facial expressions that enhance their neonatal appearance were preferentially selected by humans. Thus, early domestication of wolves may have occurred not only as wolf populations became tamer, but also as they exploited human preferences for paedomorphic characteristics. These findings, therefore, add to our understanding of early dog domestication as a complex co-evolutionary process.

Concepts: Evolution, Domestication, Artificial selection, Gray Wolf, Selective breeding, Dog, Selection, Natural selection


Dromedaries have been fundamental to the development of human societies in arid landscapes and for long-distance trade across hostile hot terrains for 3,000 y. Today they continue to be an important livestock resource in marginal agro-ecological zones. However, the history of dromedary domestication and the influence of ancient trading networks on their genetic structure have remained elusive. We combined ancient DNA sequences of wild and early-domesticated dromedary samples from arid regions with nuclear microsatellite and mitochondrial genotype information from 1,083 extant animals collected across the species' range. We observe little phylogeographic signal in the modern population, indicative of extensive gene flow and virtually affecting all regions except East Africa, where dromedary populations have remained relatively isolated. In agreement with archaeological findings, we identify wild dromedaries from the southeast Arabian Peninsula among the founders of the domestic dromedary gene pool. Approximate Bayesian computations further support the “restocking from the wild” hypothesis, with an initial domestication followed by introgression from individuals from wild, now-extinct populations. Compared with other livestock, which show a long history of gene flow with their wild ancestors, we find a high initial diversity relative to the native distribution of the wild ancestor on the Arabian Peninsula and to the brief coexistence of early-domesticated and wild individuals. This study also demonstrates the potential to retrieve ancient DNA sequences from osseous remains excavated in hot and dry desert environments.

Concepts: Dromedary, Livestock, Biology, Domestication, Genetics, Camel, Arabian Peninsula, DNA


The ancestor of all modern domestic cats is the wildcat, Felis silvestris lybica, with archaeological evidence indicating it was domesticated as early as 10,000 years ago in South-West Asia. A recent study, however, claims that cat domestication also occurred in China some 5,000 years ago and involved the same wildcat ancestor (F. silvestris). The application of geometric morphometric analyses to ancient small felid bones from China dating between 5,500 to 4,900 BP, instead reveal these and other remains to be that of the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis). These data clearly indicate that the origins of a human-cat ‘domestic’ relationship in Neolithic China began independently from South-West Asia and involved a different wild felid species altogether. The leopard cat’s ‘domestic’ status, however, appears to have been short-lived-its apparent subsequent replacement shown by the fact that today all domestic cats in China are genetically related to F. silvestris.

Concepts: Mammals of Asia, Leopard Cat, Prionailurus, Domestication, Felines, Felis, Felidae, Cat


Whether non-human animals can recognize human signals, including emotions, has both scientific and applied importance, and is particularly relevant for domesticated species. This study presents the first evidence of horses' abilities to spontaneously discriminate between positive (happy) and negative (angry) human facial expressions in photographs. Our results showed that the angry faces induced responses indicative of a functional understanding of the stimuli: horses displayed a left-gaze bias (a lateralization generally associated with stimuli perceived as negative) and a quicker increase in heart rate (HR) towards these photographs. Such lateralized responses towards human emotion have previously only been documented in dogs, and effects of facial expressions on HR have not been shown in any heterospecific studies. Alongside the insights that these findings provide into interspecific communication, they raise interesting questions about the generality and adaptiveness of emotional expression and perception across species.

Concepts: Hinny, Donkey, Domestication, Wild horse, Mammal, Emotion, Psychology, Horse


Domestication is an important factor driving changes in animal cognition and behaviour. In particular, the capacity of dogs to communicate in a referential and intentional way with humans is considered a key outcome of how domestication as a companion animal shaped the canid brain. However, the lack of comparison with other domestic animals makes general conclusions about how domestication has affected these important cognitive features difficult. We investigated human-directed behaviour in an ‘unsolvable problem’ task in a domestic, but non-companion species: goats. During the test, goats experienced a forward-facing or an away-facing person. They gazed towards the forward-facing person earlier and for longer and showed more gaze alternations and a lower latency until the first gaze alternation when the person was forward-facing. Our results provide strong evidence for audience-dependent human-directed visual orienting behaviour in a species that was domesticated primarily for production, and show similarities with the referential and intentional communicative behaviour exhibited by domestic companion animals such as dogs and horses. This indicates that domestication has a much broader impact on heterospecific communication than previously believed.

Concepts: Goat, Communication, Cognitive psychology, Domestication, Guinea pig, Psychology, Pet, Dog


This study identifies and analyzes statistically significant overlaps between selective sweep screens in anatomically modern humans and several domesticated species. The results obtained suggest that (paleo-)genomic data can be exploited to complement the fossil record and support the idea of self-domestication in Homo sapiens, a process that likely intensified as our species populated its niche. Our analysis lends support to attempts to capture the “domestication syndrome” in terms of alterations to certain signaling pathways and cell lineages, such as the neural crest.

Concepts: Evolution, DNA, Chromosome, Human evolution, Natural selection, Domestication, Homo sapiens idaltu, Human


Domestic cats are one of the most popular pets globally, but the process of their domestication is not well understood. Near Eastern wildcats are thought to have been attracted to food sources in early agricultural settlements, following a commensal pathway to domestication. Early evidence for close human-cat relationships comes from a wildcat interred near a human on Cyprus ca. 9,500 y ago, but the earliest domestic cats are known only from Egyptian art dating to 4,000 y ago. Evidence is lacking from the key period of cat domestication 9,500-4,000 y ago. We report on the presence of cats directly dated between 5560-5280 cal B.P. in the early agricultural village of Quanhucun in Shaanxi, China. These cats were outside the wild range of Near Eastern wildcats and biometrically smaller, but within the size-range of domestic cats. The δ(13)C and δ(15)N values of human and animal bone collagen revealed substantial consumption of millet-based foods by humans, rodents, and cats. Ceramic storage containers designed to exclude rodents indicated a threat to stored grain in Yangshao villages. Taken together, isotopic and archaeological data demonstrate that cats were advantageous for ancient farmers. Isotopic data also show that one cat ate less meat and consumed more millet-based foods than expected, indicating that it scavenged among or was fed by people. This study offers fresh perspectives on cat domestication, providing the earliest known evidence for commensal relationships between people and cats.

Concepts: Food, Rat, Human, Felis, Cyprus, Domestication, Mammal, Cat


The domestication of the horse ∼5.5 kya and the emergence of mounted riding, chariotry, and cavalry dramatically transformed human civilization. However, the genetics underlying horse domestication are difficult to reconstruct, given the near extinction of wild horses. We therefore sequenced two ancient horse genomes from Taymyr, Russia (at 7.4- and 24.3-fold coverage), both predating the earliest archeological evidence of domestication. We compared these genomes with genomes of domesticated horses and the wild Przewalski’s horse and found genetic structure within Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, with the ancient population contributing significantly to the genetic variation of domesticated breeds. We furthermore identified a conservative set of 125 potential domestication targets using four complementary scans for genes that have undergone positive selection. One group of genes is involved in muscular and limb development, articular junctions, and the cardiac system, and may represent physiological adaptations to human utilization. A second group consists of genes with cognitive functions, including social behavior, learning capabilities, fear response, and agreeableness, which may have been key for taming horses. We also found that domestication is associated with inbreeding and an excess of deleterious mutations. This genetic load is in line with the “cost of domestication” hypothesis also reported for rice, tomatoes, and dogs, and it is generally attributed to the relaxation of purifying selection resulting from the strong demographic bottlenecks accompanying domestication. Our work demonstrates the power of ancient genomes to reconstruct the complex genetic changes that transformed wild animals into their domesticated forms, and the population context in which this process took place.

Concepts: DNA, Population genetics, Wild horse, Domestication of the horse, Domestication, Natural selection, Genetics, Horse


Crop domestications are long-term selection experiments that have greatly advanced human civilization. The domestication of cultivated rice (Oryza sativa L.) ranks as one of the most important developments in history. However, its origins and domestication processes are controversial and have long been debated. Here we generate genome sequences from 446 geographically diverse accessions of the wild rice species Oryza rufipogon, the immediate ancestral progenitor of cultivated rice, and from 1,083 cultivated indica and japonica varieties to construct a comprehensive map of rice genome variation. In the search for signatures of selection, we identify 55 selective sweeps that have occurred during domestication. In-depth analyses of the domestication sweeps and genome-wide patterns reveal that Oryza sativa japonica rice was first domesticated from a specific population of O. rufipogon around the middle area of the Pearl River in southern China, and that Oryza sativa indica rice was subsequently developed from crosses between japonica rice and local wild rice as the initial cultivars spread into South East and South Asia. The domestication-associated traits are analysed through high-resolution genetic mapping. This study provides an important resource for rice breeding and an effective genomics approach for crop domestication research.

Concepts: Oryza, Wild rice, Selection, Natural selection, Genetics, Domestication, Oryza sativa, Rice