Like humans, the house mouse, or Mus musculus sp., is widespread throughout the world - making it the most invasive rodent species.
A BU researcher has been part of an international study which reveals how human activities have favoured the emergence and spread of the house mouse over the last 20,000 years.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, involved researchers from eight countries - including BU’s Dr Emma Jenkins, an environmental archaeologist.
To reconstruct the history of the biological invasion of the house mouse, the researchers analysed more than 800 remains from 43 archaeological sites.
Dr Jenkins became involved in the research due to her work on the small mammals from the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük, south-central Turkey, which was one of the archaeological sites included in this study.
She said: “The house mouse is one of the most successful invasive species globally thanks largely to its synanthropic relationship with humans.
“The origins and mechanism for this relationship, however, are not fully understood. This paper reports the findings of the first large scale study focused on the origin and dispersal of the house mouse out of the Middle East into Europe which occurred from 20,000-4,000 years ago thanks largely to human activity.”
The study also found that the dates house mice emerged in Europe coincide with the first appearance of domestic cats on the continent, suggesting that the introduction of the predator may have been motivated by the need to protect grain and food stocks.
Dr Jenkins said: “The finding that the occurrence of house mice in Europe 4,000 years ago coincides with the appearance of domesticated cats suggests that humans started keeping cats in order to control house mice populations.”
The study was led by Thomas Cucchi of the ‘Archaeozoology, Archaeobotany: Societies, Practices and Environments’ laboratory (CNRS/Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle) with teams from Australia, France, Germany, Greece, Iran, Romania, the UK and the USA.