Biological Theory

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 260–271 | Cite as

A Cultural Niche Construction Theory of Initial Domestication

  • Bruce D. Smith
Thematic Issue Article: Cultural Niche Construction


I present a general theory for the initial domestication of plants and animals that is based on niche construction theory and incorporates several behavioral ecological concepts, including central-place provisioning, resource catchment, resource ownership and defensibility, and traditional ecological knowledge. This theory provides an alternative to, and replacement for, current explanations, including diet breadth models of optimal foraging theory, that are based on an outmoded concept of asymmetrical adaptation and that attempt to explain domestication as an adaptive response to resource imbalance resulting from either environmental decline or human population growth. The small-scale human societies that first domesticated plants and animals share a number of basic interrelated attributes that when considered as an integrated and coherent set of behaviors provide the context for explaining initial domestication not as an adaptive response to an adverse environmental shift or to human population growth or packing but rather as the result of deliberate human enhancement of resource-rich environments in situations where evidence of resource imbalance is absent.


Agriculture Domestication Ecosystem engineering Niche construction 



I thank Kevin Leland and Mike O’Brien for including me in the KLI workshop and the other participants for stimulating and enjoyable discussions. I also thank Russell Gray, Kevin Laland, Mike O’Brien, Thomas Payne, Joyce Marcus, and Melinda Zeder for their suggestions for improving this article.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognitive Research 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program in Human Ecology and Archaeobiology, Department of AnthropologyNational Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA

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