Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Impacts of biological globalization in the Mediterranean: unveiling the deep history of human-mediated gamebird dispersal.

PMID 25733899


Humans have a long history of moving wildlife that over time has resulted in unprecedented biotic homogenization. It is, as a result, often unclear whether certain taxa are native to a region or naturalized, and how the history of human involvement in species dispersal has shaped present-day biodiversity. Although currently an eastern Palaearctic galliform, the black francolin (Francolinus francolinus) was known to occur in the western Mediterranean from at least the time of Pliny the Elder, if not earlier. During Medieval times and the Renaissance, the black francolin was a courtly gamebird prized not only for its flavor, but also its curative, and even aphrodisiac qualities. There is uncertainty, however, whether this important gamebird was native or introduced to the region and, if the latter, what the source of introduction into the western Mediterranean was. Here we combine historical documentation with a DNA investigation of modern birds and archival (13th-20th century) specimens from across the species' current and historically documented range. Our study proves the black francolin was nonnative to the western Mediterranean, and we document its introduction from the east via several trade routes, some reaching as far as South Asia. This finding provides insight into the reach and scope of long-distance trade routes that serviced the demand of European aristocracy for exotic species as symbols of wealth and prestige, and helps to demonstrate the lasting impact of human-mediated long-distance species dispersal on current day biodiversity.