Increasing diet breadth, a distinguishing characteristic of human foraging strategies at the end of the Pleistocene and in the early Holocene, is known to be a key development contributing to domestication and the spread of agriculture and pastoralism. Many scholars have focused on broad-spectrum foraging as a result of resource depression due to demographic stress or environmental degradation. However, these factors are absent in an increasing number of cases. New research in the Gobi Desert shows that a dramatic change in organizational strategies, including the intensified use of low-ranked foods from dune-field and wetland habitats, is closely correlated with the establishment of dispersed patches boasting high species diversity and a concentrated abundance of small prey. According to a global suite of paleoenvironmental and archaeological data, it appears that the fragmentation of more homogeneous grassland habitats coincided with the rise of broad-spectrum foraging and that these fragmented ecosystems were ideally suited to the unique set of foraging strategies employed by modern Homo sapiens. This study shows how broad-spectrum foraging, increased human population density, and the shift toward food production should be considered by-products of major environmental changes that created an ecological setting ideal for enhanced human reproduction.
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