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Plant & Animal Domestication: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:02 A Day at the Zoo
  • 0:51 Tamed or Domesticated
  • 2:10 Domestication
  • 3:29 Why Not Gazelles?
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer with a particular interest in the social sciences and American studies.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the process of domestication of plants and animals, including why certain animals have never been domesticated. You'll also understand the difference between taming and domesticating.

A Day at the Zoo

A little boy named Trevor is spending the day at the zoo with his family and notices an enclosure with gazelles, a type of small antelope. Since his family lives on a farm, he can't help but wonder if they could own a gazelle someday. The animal is even smaller than the horses they own, so he figures they'd do well on the farm.

His mother breaks the bad news. Gazelles aren't domesticated animals that a person can own, she says. Other than those that live in captivity, like in zoos, they just don't live with human beings in the same way horses do.

Trevor looks again at the gazelle and wonders why not. This lesson explores what it means for a plant or animal to be domesticated and the process involved in domestication.

Tamed or Domesticated?

The following week, Trevor sees a television ad for a local circus and watches as trainers interact with tigers and other animals that his mom has told him can't be domesticated. He questions his mom again about this.

'Those animals have been tamed,' she says, 'but not domesticated.' Trevor wonders, what's the difference?

Tamed animals are wild animal species that have been captured and conditioned by food and other methods to submit to human control but that are not accustomed as a species to living with humans. Taming involves behavior change in the individual animal, not genetic changes in the species. This is not the same as domestication.

Domesticated animals, on the other hand, were also once wild animals, but over time have been bred in order to select traits that make them more useful for human needs. Dogs, used for hunting and protection in the past, departed from their wolf ancestry by being bred over time by humans to be more docile compared with their genetic origins. Domestication involves genetic, physiological and behavior changes to the species, not just behavior change and training of one particular animal.

Examples of Domestication

So, domestication is the process of adapting plants and animals to meet human needs, from protection, to food and commodities, to transportation, to companionship. Animal products from domesticated animals range from meats and dairy products to wool clothing and honey. Examples of domesticated animals and a region that domesticated them include cattle in Africa, goats in the Middle East, and llamas in South America. Sometimes, multiple regions domesticated the same plants and animals.

Animals raised for their meat and other products are known as livestock, such as the horses, cows, and goats kept on Trevor's family's farm. By contrast, the domesticated animals that we keep for companionship, such as dogs and cats, are referred to as pets instead.

Examples of domesticated plants and a region that domesticated them include wheat and barley in the Middle East, the potato in South America, and millet and rice in China. Plants that are grown for consumption are known as crops, while plants used for aesthetic purposes indoors are houseplants. Like domesticated animals, domesticated plants have been controlled by humans for many generations.

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