Commensal Rats and Humans: Integrating Rodent Phylogeography and Zooarchaeology to Highlight Connections between Human Societies


Phylogeography and zooarchaeology are largely separate disciplines, yet each interrogates relationships between humans and commensal species. Knowledge gained about human history from studies of four commensal rats (Rattus rattus, R. tanezumi, R. exulans, and R. norvegicus) is outlined, and open questions about their spread alongside humans are identified. Limitations of phylogeographic and zooarchaeological studies are highlighted, then how integration would increase understanding of species’ demographic histories and resultant inferences about human societies is discussed. How rat expansions have informed the understanding of human migration, urban settlements, trade networks, and intra- and interspecific competition is reviewed. Since each rat species is associated with different human societies, they identify unique ecological and historical/cultural conditions that influenced their expansion. Finally, priority research areas including nuclear genome based phylogeographies are identified using archaeological evidence to understand R. norvegicus expansion across China, multi-wave colonization of R. rattus across Europe, and competition between R. rattus and R. norvegicus.

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