Scientists have reconstructed the early stages of the evolution of house mice. In his article for Scientific Reports they argue that the Western subspecies began to settle near the human for 14 and a half thousand years ago, before our ancestors mastered agriculture. In Europe the mouse entered much later, and the first to do the Eastern subspecies six and a half thousand years ago. The domestication of cats and their resettlement in Europe, most likely, closely connected with the spread of house mice.
The ability to live near humans has allowed the house mouse (Mus musculus) to spread over most parts of the world, including remote oceanic Islands. The history of this species began in the Pleistocene in the Indian subcontinent and the surrounding territories of modern Iran and Afghanistan. However, the transfer of the mice to commensal way of life and terms of their penetration in Europe remain poorly understood.
A team of specialists headed by the Volume of Cocci (Thomas Cucchi) from the National Museum of natural history in Paris, recovered from early evolution of house mice. The scientists collected and analyzed 829 samples of mouse remains, discovered on the territory of the 43 archaeological sites in South-West Asia and Europe. The oldest of them was dated to the late Pleistocene, and the youngest late bronze age.
The study found that the Western subspecies of house mouse (M. m. domesticus), which includes populations in Western Europe and outside of Eurasia, inhabited the South-West of Iran at the end of the Pleistocene. The first evidence of its penetration in the middle East have 14 and a half thousand years ago. Most likely, it was a natural species dispersal.
The authors suggest that initially the Western house mice are attracted to human habitation stable climate, absence of predators and fewer competitors, and not the availability of food. This explains why the first finds associated with large settlements. However, once people started to grow and store grains and legumes, the process of turning the mouse synanthropic species has accelerated dramatically, and the process could go independently of the two centers in the Northern and southern Levant.
Pretty quickly the Western house mouse spread throughout the Middle East, including Cyprus. However, in Europe this species penetrated much later, about four thousand years ago. Apparently, its spread has been hampered by the lack of large human settlements on the Balkan Peninsula, as well as competition with the local species of mice. Western house mice were able to colonize the region only after it intensified urbanization, and the trade flow with the Middle East.
It is interesting that Eastern Europe was inhabited by house mice before. The subspecies M. m. musculus, common today, to the East of Poland and much of, got in about six and a half thousand years ago. In contrast to the Western, Eastern house mouse depends less on the person, which provided her successful resettlement, even on a sparsely populated area.
According to the authors, the spread of house mice forced people to domesticate cats (Felis silvestris lybica). The earliest archaeological evidence of domestic cats was found in Cyprus in tombs of the age of nine thousand years. However, the process of domestication of this species started earlier, in the continental middle East, even before the advent of agriculture. In Europe domestic cats were probably introduced after the colonization of the Western continent by house mice.
Today, mouse is not only annoying pests, but the most important laboratory animals. With their help scientists study fundamental biological mechanisms and testing new technologies. For example, recently American biologists have created a chimeric human embryos and mouse in which the proportion of human cells was up to four percent.