A thousand bites: Insect introductions and late Holocene environments

Eva Panagiotakopulu, Paul C. Buckland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The impact of insect species directly associated with man-made habitats and human dispersal has been, and remains globally significant. Their early expansion from their original niches into Europe is intrinsically related to discussions of climate change, origins of domesticated plants and animals, the spread of agriculture and infectious diseases. The Holocene fossil records of the dispersal of three storage pest species, Sitophilus granarius, Oryzaephilus surinamensis, and Tribolium castaneum, the housefly, Musca domestica, and the human flea, Pulex irritans from 221 sites have been mapped ranging from the Near East to Europe and from the Neolithic to the post medieval period. The importance of human induced change as a driver for the spread of synanthropic faunas and the potential for the spread of disease during this process are discussed. The results show links between mobility of farming groups and distribution of synanthropic insect species and produce a roadmap for the different cultural periods of the Late Holocene based on dispersal of these synanthropic insects. During the Neolithic, the first wave of insect introductions shows the northern European frontiers of storage of cereals, introduction of domestic animals and pastoralism and exchange. Pest introductions, linked with the itinerary of the Roman army, reached the most northerly parts of the Empire. During the medieval period, the insect records indicate further expansion and changes which parallel the spread of epidemic diseases like Plague. Understanding the timing and the rates of change of synanthropic insects provides key information about the development of the homogenised and highly anthropogenic environments in which we live today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-35
Number of pages12
JournalQuaternary Science Reviews
Early online date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


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