describes the role of food in your life, 250 word short paper, 3 short reflection paper


Preliminary ReflectionFor this reflection I seek a 250 word short paper that describes the role of food in your life. Reflections are to be turned in as attachments only and should be double-spaced Word files. Spelling and grammar ALWAYS count and you will be graded accordingly.

DiamondFor this reflection (and for the others as well) I seek a 250 word short paper on the article by Jared Diamond. Roughly 60-80% should be a summary of the reading. The remaining 20-40% should discuss how the ideas in the reading might be reflected in something you would cook for friends or family. Specifically, how might you prepare a dish using these ideas and what would you call it?Reflections are to be turned in as attachments only and should be double-spaced Word files. Spelling and grammar ALWAYS count and you will be graded accordingly.Rubric:Summary – 1 pt. Dish – 0.5 pts. Spelling & Grammar – 0.5pts.
SternbergRead the paper by Sternberg and write a reflection. As in the past, devote 80% to a review of the paper and the remainder to a dish idea inspired by the reading.Rubric:Summary: 1.0 pt Dish idea 0.5 pts. Grammar 0.5 pts.

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Evolution, consequences and future
of plant and animal domestication
Jared Diamond
Department of Physiology, University of California Medical School, Los Angeles, California 90095-1751, USA
Domestication interests us as the most momentous change in Holocene human history. Why did it operate on
so few wild species, in so few geographic areas? Why did people adopt it at all, why did they adopt it when
they did, and how did it spread? The answers to these questions determined the remaking of the modern
world, as farmers spread at the expense of hunter–gatherers and of other farmers.
lant and animal domestication is the most
important development in the past 13,000
years of human history. It interests all of us,
scientists and non-scientists alike, because it
provides most of our food today, it was
prerequisite to the rise of civilization, and it transformed
global demography. Because domestication ultimately
yielded agents of conquest (for example, guns, germs and
steel) but arose in only a few areas of the world, and in
certain of those areas earlier than in others, the peoples
who through biogeographic luck first acquired
domesticates acquired enormous advantages over other
peoples and expanded. As a result of those replacements,
about 88% of all humans alive today speak some language
belonging to one or another of a mere seven language
families confined in the early Holocene to two small areas
of Eurasia that happened to become the earliest centres of
domestication — the Fertile Crescent and parts of China.
Through that head start, the inhabitants of those two
areas spread their languages and genes over much of the
rest of the world. Those localized origins of domestication
ultimately explain why this international journal of
science is published in an Indo-European language rather
than in Basque, Swahili, Quechua or Pitjantjatjara.
Much of this review is devoted to domestication itself: its
origins, the biological changes involved, its surprising
restriction to so few species, the restriction of its geographic
origins to so few homelands, and its subsequent geographic
expansion from those homelands. I then discuss the consequences of domestication for human societies, the origins
of human infectious diseases, expansions of agricultural
populations, and human evolution. After posing the
unresolved questions that I would most like to see answered,
I conclude by speculating about possible future domestications of plants and animals, and of ourselves. By a
domesticate, I mean a species bred in captivity and thereby
modified from its wild ancestors in ways making it more
useful to humans who control its reproduction and (in
the case of animals) its food supply. Domestication is thus
distinct from mere taming of wild-born animals.
Hannibal’s African war elephants were, and modern Asian
work elephants still are, just tamed wild individuals, not
individuals of a genetically distinct population born and
reared in captivity.
In 1997 I summarized available information about
domestication and its consequences for human history
in a book1. Since then, new details have continued to
accumulate, and unanswered questions have come into
sharper focus. Sources for statements not specifically
referenced will generally be found in refs 1–9.
The past of domestication
Our ‘decision’ to domesticate
The question “why farm?” strikes most of us modern
humans as silly. Of course it is better to grow wheat and cows
than to forage for roots and snails. But in reality, that perspective is flawed by hindsight. Food production could not
possibly have arisen through a conscious decision, because
the world’s first farmers had around them no model of
farming to observe, hence they could not have known that
there was a goal of domestication to strive for, and could not
have guessed the consequences that domestication would
bring for them. If they had actually foreseen the consequences, they would surely have outlawed the first steps
towards domestication, because the archaeological and
ethnographic record throughout the world shows that the
transition from hunting and gathering to farming eventually resulted in more work, lower adult stature, worse
nutritional condition and heavier disease burdens10,11. The
only peoples who could make a conscious choice about
becoming farmers were hunter–gatherers living adjacent to
the first farming communities, and they generally disliked
what they saw and rejected farming, for the good reasons
just mentioned and others.
Instead, the origins of domestication involved unforeseen consequences of two sets of changes — changes in
plants and animals, and changes in human behaviour. As
initially recognized by Darwin12, and elaborated by
Rindos13, many of the differences between domestic plants
and their wild ancestors evolved as consequences of wild
plants being selected, gathered and brought back to camp
by hunter–gatherers, while the roots of animal domestication included the ubiquitous tendency of all peoples to try
to tame or manage wild animals (including such unlikely
candidates as ospreys, hyenas and grizzly bears). Although
humans had been manipulating wild plants and animals for
a long time, hunter–gatherer behaviour began to change at
the end of the Pleistocene because of increasingly
unpredictable climate, decreases in big-game species that
were hunters’ first-choice prey, and increasing human
occupation of available habitats14,15. To decrease the risk of
unpredictable variation in food supply, people broadened
their diets (the so-called broad-spectrum revolution) to
second- and third-choice foods, which included more small
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North American
bighorn sheep
Rocky Mountain goat
African buffalo
Figure 1 Comparisons of domesticated wild species (left of each pair) and their never-domesticated close relatives (right) reveal the subtle factors that can derail domestication.
game, plus plant foods requiring much preparation, such as grinding, leaching and soaking14,16. Eventually, people transported some
wild plants (such as wild cereals) from their natural habitats to more
productive habitats and began intentional cultivation17.
The emerging agricultural lifestyle had to compete with the established hunter–gatherer lifestyle. Once domestication began to arise,
the changes of plants and animals that followed automatically under
domestication, and the competitive advantages that domestication
conveyed upon the first farmers (despite their small stature and poor
health), made the transition from the hunter–gatherer lifestyle to
food production autocatalytic — but the speed of that transition
varied considerably among regions18,19. Thus, the real question about
the origins of agriculture, which I consider below, is: why did food
production eventually outcompete the hunter–gatherer lifestyle over
almost the whole world, at the particular times and places that it did,
but not at earlier times and other places?
Changes of wild species under domestication
These changes are particularly well understood for southwest Asia’s
Fertile Crescent, the site of domestication that was earliest in the
world and that yielded what are still the world’s most valuable
domestic plant and animal species. For most species domesticated
there, the wild ancestor and its wild geographic range have been
identified, its relation to the domesticate proven by genetic and
chromosomal studies, its changes under domestication delineated
(often at the gene level), those changes traced in successive layers of
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the archaeological record, and the approximate time and place of
its domestication identified9.
For example, wild wheats and barley bear their seeds on top of a
stalk that spontaneously shatters, dropping the seeds to the ground
where they can germinate (but where they also become difficult for
humans to gather). An occasional single-gene mutation that prevents
shattering is lethal in the wild (because the seeds fail to drop), but
conveniently concentrates the seeds for human gatherers. Once
people started harvesting those wild cereal seeds, bringing them back
to camp, accidentally spilling some, and eventually planting others,
seeds with a non-shattering mutation became unconsciously
selected for rather than against9,17.
Individual wild animals also vary in traits affecting their desirability to humans. Chickens were selected to be larger, wild cattle
(aurochs) to be smaller, and sheep to lose their bristly outer hairs (the
kemp) and not to shed their soft inner hairs (the wool). Most
domestic animals, including even recently domesticated trout20,
have smaller brains and less acute sense organs than do their wild
ancestors. Good brains and keen eyes are essential to survival in the
wild, but represent a quantitatively important waste of energy in the
barnyard, as far as humans are concerned3,21.
Especially instructive are cases in which the same ancestral species
became selected under domestication for alternative purposes,
resulting in very different-appearing breeds or crops. For instance,
dogs were variously selected to kill wolves, dig out rats, race, be eaten,
or be cuddled in our laps. What naive zoologist glancing at
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wolfhounds, terriers, greyhounds, Mexican hairless dogs and
chihuahuas would even guess them to belong to the same species?
Similarly, cabbage (Brassica oleracea) was variously selected for its
leaves (cabbage and kale), stems (kohlrabi), flower shoots (broccoli
and cauliflower) and buds (brussels sprouts).
Why so few wild species were domesticated
The wild animal species that most plausibly could have yielded
valuable domesticates were large terrestrial mammalian herbivores
and omnivores, of which the world holds 148 species weighing 45 kg
or more (Table 9.2 of ref. 1). Yet only 14 of those 148 species were
actually domesticated (Table 9.1 of ref. 1), prompting us to ask what
prevented domestication of the other 134 species? Similarly, worldwide there are about 200,000 wild species of higher plants, of which
only about 100 yielded valuable domesticates. Especially surprising
are the many cases in which only one of a closely related group of
species became domesticated. For example, horses and donkeys were
domesticated, but none of the four zebra species congeneric and able
to interbreed with them3,22.
The key question concerning this selectivity of domestication is as
follows: in the cases of all those species never domesticated, did the
difficulty lie with the species itself, or with the people indigenous to
the area to which the species was native? For instance, is the
abundance of large wild mammals the reason why no mammal
species was ever domesticated in subequatorial Africa, making
domestication superfluous for Africans? If that explanation were
correct, then African people should also have ignored Eurasian
domestic mammals when those were finally introduced to Africa,
and European animal breeders on arriving in Africa should have
succeeded in domesticating some African wild mammals, but both of
those predictions are refuted by the actual course of history.
Six independent lines of evidence1 converge to prove that, in most
cases, the obstacle lay with the species itself, not with the local people:
the rapid acceptance of introduced Eurasian domesticates by
non-Eurasian peoples; the rapid ancient domestication of the most
valuable wild species; the repeated independent domestications of
many of them; the failure of even modern European plant and
animal breeders to add significantly to our short list of valuable
domesticates; ancient discoveries of the value of thousands of species
that were regularly harvested in the wild but that never became
domesticated; and the identification of the particular reasons
preventing the domestication of many of those species.
Comparisons of domesticated wild species with never-domesticated close relatives illustrate the subtle factors that can derail
domestication1 (Fig. 1). For example, it is initially surprising that oak
trees, the most important wild food plant in many parts of Eurasia and
North America, were never domesticated. Like wild almonds, acorns
of most individual wild oaks contain bitter poisons, with occasional
non-poisonous mutant trees preferred by human foragers. However,
the non-poisonous condition is controlled by a single dominant gene
in almonds but polygenically in oaks, so that offspring of the occasional non-poisonous individuals are often non-poisonous in almonds
but rarely so in oaks, preventing selection of edible oak varieties to this
day. A second example is provided by the European horse breeders
who settled in South Africa in the 1600s and — like African herders for
previous millennia — tried to domesticate zebras. They gave up after
several centuries for two reasons. First, zebras are incurably vicious,
have the bad habit of biting a handler and not letting go until the
handler is dead, and thereby injure more zoo-keepers each year than
do tigers. Second, zebras have better peripheral vision than horses,
making them impossible even for professional rodeo cowboys to lasso
(they see the rope coming and flick away their head).
Among wild mammal species that were never domesticated, the
six main obstacles proved to be a diet not easily supplied by humans
(hence no domestic anteaters), slow growth rate and long birth spacing (for example, elephants and gorillas), nasty disposition (grizzly
bears and rhinoceroses), reluctance to breed in captivity (pandas and
cheetahs), lack of follow-the-leader dominance hierarchies (bighorn
sheep and antelope), and tendency to panic in enclosures or when
faced with predators (gazelles and deer, except reindeer). Many
species passed five of these six tests but were still not domesticated,
because they failed a sixth test. Conclusions about non-domesticability from the fact of non-domestication are not circular, because these
six obstacles can be assessed independently.
Why there were so few homelands of agriculture
Food production bestowed on farmers enormous demographic,
technological, political and military advantages over neighbouring
hunter–gatherers. The history of the past 13,000 years consists of tales
of hunter–gatherer societies becoming driven out, infected,
conquered or exterminated by farming societies in every area of the
world suitable for farming. One might therefore have naively
anticipated that, in any part of the world, one or more of the
local hunter–gatherer societies would have stumbled upon domestication, become farmers, and thereby outcompeted the other
local hunter–gatherer societies. In fact, food production arose
independently in at most nine areas of the world (Fertile Crescent,
China, Mesoamerica, Andes/Amazonia, eastern United States, Sahel,
tropical West Africa, Ethiopia and New Guinea).
The puzzle increases when one scrutinizes that list of homelands.
One might again naively have expected the areas most productive for
farming today to correspond, at least roughly, to the areas most productive in the past. In reality, the list of homelands and the list of
breadbaskets of the modern world are almost mutually exclusive
(Fig. 2). The latter list includes California, North America’s Great
Plains, Europe, the pampas of Argentina, the cape of southern Africa,
the Indian subcontinent, Java and Australia’s wheat belt. Because
these areas are evidently so well suited to farming or herding today,
why were they not so in the past?
The explanation is that the homelands of agriculture were instead
merely those regions to which the most numerous and most valuable
domesticable wild plant and animal species were native. Only in
those areas were incipient early farmers able to outcompete local
hunter–gatherers. Once those locally available wild species had been
domesticated and had spread outside the homelands, societies of
homelands had no further advantage other than that of a head start,
and they were eventually overtaken by societies of more fertile or
climatically more favoured areas outside the homelands.
For instance, the Fertile Crescent of southwest Asia was home to
wild wheats, barley, peas, sheep, goats, cows and pigs — a list that
includes what are still the most valuable crops and livestock of the
modern world. Hence hunter–gatherers of the Fertile Crescent
domesticated those species and became the world’s first farmers and
herders, beginning around 8500 BC1,9,23. That head start in food
production led to them and their close neighbours also developing
the world’s first metal tools, writing, empires and professional
armies. Those tools of conquest, and Fertile Crescent human genes,
gradually spread west into Europe and North Africa and east into the
western Indian subcontinent and central Asia. However, once those
crops, livestock and human inventions had spread, Fertile Crescent
societies possessed no other advantages. As all of those elements
slowly spread northwest across Europe, farming and power also
shifted northwest from the Fertile Crescent to areas where farming
had never arisen independently — first to Greece, then to Italy, and
finally to northwest Europe. Human societies of the Fertile Crescent
inadvertently committed slow ecological suicide in a zone of low
rainfall prone to deforestation, soil erosion and salinization.
The spread of food production
From the homelands of domestication, food production spread
around the world in either of two ways. The much less common way
was for hunter–gatherers outside the homelands to acquire crops or
livestock from the homelands, enabling them to settle down as farmers or herders, as attested by archaeological evidence for substantial
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Figure 2 Ancient and modern centres of
agriculture. Ancient centres of origin of plant and
animal domestication — the nine homelands of
food production — are indicated by the orangeshaded areas on the map (based on Fig. 5.1 of
Eastern US
ref. 1). The most agriculturally productive areas
of the modern world, as judged by cereals and
major staples, are indicated by the yellow-shaded
areas. Note that there is almost no overlap
between the areas highlighted, except that China
appears on both distributions, and that the most Mesoamerica
productive areas of the central United States
today approach areas of the eastern United
States where domestication originated. The
Andes and
reason why the two distributions are so different
is that agriculture arose in areas to which the wild
ancestors of the most valuable domesticable
crops and animals were native, but other areas
proved much more productive when those
valuable domesticates reached them.
continuity of material culture, and by genetic, linguistic and skeletal
evidence of continuity of human populations. The clearest such
example of local adoption of food production is in southern Africa,
where around 2,000 years ago some Khoisan hunter–gatherers
acquired Eurasian livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) arriving from
the north and became herders (so-called Hottentots). Much more
often, however, local hunter–gatherers had no opportunity to
acquire crops and livestock before they were overrun or replaced by
farmers expanding out of the homelands, exploiting their demographic, technological, political and military advantages over the
Expansions of crops, livestock, and even people and technologies
tended to occur more rapidly along east–west axes than along
north–south axes1 (Fig. 3). The reason is obvious: locations at the
same latitude share identical day-lengths and seasonalities, often
share similar climates, habitats and diseases, and hence require less
evolutionary change or adaptation of domesticates, technologies and
cultures than do locations at different latitudes. Examples include the
rapid westwards and eastwards dispersal of wheat, horses, wheels and
writing of western Asian origin, and the westwards dispersal of
chickens, citrus and peaches of Chinese origin, along the east–west
axis of Eurasia. This can be contrasted with the slow spread of
Eurasian livestock and non-spread of Eurasian crops southwards
along Africa’s north–south axis24, the slow spread of Mexican corn
and the non-spread of Mexican writing and wheels and Andean
llamas and potatoes along the Americas’ north–south axis, and the
slow spread of food production southwards along the north–south
axis of the Indian subcontinent.
This is not to deny the existence of ecological barriers at the same
latitude within Asia and North America, but the general pattern
remains. Eurasia’s east–west axis, and the resulting rapid enrichment
of societies in each part of Eurasia by crops and technologies from
other parts of Eurasia, became one of the main ultimate reasons why
Eurasian peoples conquered Native American peoples, rather than
visa versa. Eurasia’s east–west axis also explains why there is much less
evidence for multiple independent domestications of the same plant
species (see below), and much more evidence for agriculturally
driven language expansions, in Eurasia than in the Americas.
Consequences of domestication
Consequences for human societies
Beginning around 8500 BC, the transition from the hunter–gatherer
lifestyle to food production enabled people to settle down next to
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Centres of origin of
food production
The most productive
agricultural areas of the modern world
their permanent gardens, orchards and pastures, instead of migrating to follow seasonal shifts in wild food supplies. (Some
hunter–gatherer societies in especially productive environments
were also sedentary, but most were not). Food production was
accompanied by a human population explosion that has continued
unabated to this day, resulting from two separate factors. First, the
sedentary lifestyle permitted shorter birth intervals. Nomadic
hunter–gatherers had previously spaced out birth intervals at four
years or more, because a mother shifting camp can carry only one
infant or slow toddler. Second, plant and animal species that are
edible to humans can be cultivated in much higher density in our
gardens, orchards and pastures than in wild habitats.
Food production also led to an explosion of technology, because
sedentary living permitted the accumulation of heavy technology
(such as forges and printing presses) that nomadic hunter–gatherers
could not carry, and because the storable food surpluses resulting from
agriculture could be used to feed full-time craftspeople and inventors.
By also feeding full-time kings, bureaucrats, nobles and soldiers, those
food surpluses led to social stratification, political centralization and
standing armies. All of these overwhelming advantages are what
enabled farmers eventually to displace hunter–gatherers1.
Evolution of epidemic infectious diseases
The main killers of humans since the advent of agriculture have been
acute, highly infectious, epidemic diseases that are confined to
humans and that either kill the victim quickly or, if the victim recovers,
immunize him/her for life1,25–28. Such diseases could not have existed
before the origins of agriculture, because they can sustain themselves
only in large dense populations that did not exist before agriculture,
hence they are often termed ‘crowd diseases’. The mystery of the
origins of many of these diseases has been solved by molecular biological studies of recent decades, demonstrating that they evolved from
similar epidemic diseases of our herd domestic animals with which we
began to come into close contact 10,000 years ago. Thus, the evolution
of these diseases depended on two separate roles of domestication: in
creating much denser human populations, and in permitting much
more frequent transmission of animal diseases from our domesticates
than from hunted wild animals. For instance, measles and tuberculosis arose from diseases of cattle, influenza from a disease of pigs and
ducks1. An outstanding mystery remains the origins of smallpox: did it
reach us from camels or from cattle?
Crowd diseases paradoxically became agents of conquest, because
exposed individuals acquired immune resistance from childhood
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exposure, and exposed populations gradually evolved genetic
resistance, but unexposed populations had neither type of resistance.
In practice, because 13 of our 14 large domestic mammals were
Eurasian species, evolution of crowd diseases was concentrated in
Eurasia, and the diseases became the most important agents by which
Eurasian colonists expanding overseas killed indigenous peoples of
the Americas, Australia, Pacific islands and southern Africa.
The agricultural expansions
Because some peoples acquired domesticates before other peoples
could, and because domesticates conferred eventual advantages such
as guns, germs and steel on the possessors, the history of the past
10,000 years has consisted of farmers replacing hunter–gatherers or
less advanced farmers. These agricultural expansions, originating
mainly from the nine homelands of agriculture, remade genetic and
linguistic maps of the world (Table 18.2 of ref. 1). Among the most
discussed (and often highly controversial) possible examples are the
expansions of Bantu-speaking farmers out of tropical West Africa
over subequatorial Africa29, Austronesian-speaking farmers out of
Taiwan over Island Southeast Asia30, Fertile Crescent farmers over
Europe31,32, and Korean farmers over Japan33.
Human genetic evolution
Domestication has been by far the most important cause of changes
in human gene frequencies in the past 10,000 years. Among the
mechanisms responsible are: the spread of human genes from the
agricultural homelands; the evolution of genetic resistance factors
(including the ABO blood groups) to our new crowd infectious diseases34,35; the evolution of adult-persistent lactase in milk-consuming
populations of northern Europe and several parts of Africa; the
evolution of allozymes of alcohol metabolism permitting consumption of large quantities of nutritionally important beer in western
Eurasia; and the evolution of adaptations to a diet higher in simple
carbohydrates, saturated fats and (in modern times) calories and salt,
and lower in fibre, complex carbohydrates, calcium and unsaturated
fats, than the hunter–gatherer diet36.
Unsolved questions
Among the host of unsolved questions, I focus here on six: what
triggered the emergence of agriculture around 8500 BC and why did
it not evolve earlier? Do crop and livestock species stem from a single
domestication event or from multiple independent domestications?
Can areas of food production be segregated into primary and
secondary homelands, the latter describing areas where the arrival of
primary homeland crops triggered local domestication? How did
food production spread? Why were large domestic mammals predominantly Eurasian? And how can we gain a better understanding
of the history of domestication of particular species?
Why then but not earlier?
The human lineage diverged from that of chimpanzees around
6,000,000 years ago. For the next 99.8% of our separate history, there
was no agriculture, until it emerged independently in up to nine areas
on four continents in the short span of 6,000 years between 8500 and
2500 BC. All of those nearly-simultaneous independent origins seem
to be too much of a coincidence. What triggered agriculture repeatedly then, and why had it never arisen during the previous 6,000,000
Posing the question in this way both understates and overstates
the puzzle. It understates the puzzle, because there are not only up to
nine independent trajectories of intensification that did culminate in
agriculture, but also many other ones that didn’t quite (or that hadn’t
yet at the time that European conquest aborted them). Areas of the
world where hunter–gatherers in the Holocene developed increased
population densities, complex material culture, in some cases
pottery, and (some anthropologists argue) sedentary living and
ranked societies with chiefs included Mesolithic Europe, Japan and
maritime Far East Asia, the North American high Arctic, the Pacific
coast of northwest North America, interior California’s oak woodlands, the California Channel Islands, the Calusa of Florida, the coast
of Ecuador, and the Murray–Darling Basin of southeast Australia (for
examples, see refs 37–39). But a similar intensification of
hunter–gatherer societies also preceded the emergence of food production in its nine homelands; I suspect that the sole difference
between the areas where people remained hunter–gatherers and the
areas where food production evolved was that plant and animal
species harvested in the latter but not the former areas included ones
that automatically evolved domesticates, as already discussed. Thus,
there were not just 5–9, but several dozen, independent trajectories of
intensification in the Holocene.
On the other hand, my formulation of the question also overstates
the puzzle. Only behaviourally modern Homo sapiens was biologically and mentally capable of the technological advances and foraging
efficiency that resulted in intensified hunting and gathering, and
(sometimes) in food production40. But behaviourally modern Homo
sapiens did not emerge until around 55,000–80,000 years ago (the
exact date is debated), so we should say that the independent simultaneous emergences were not concentrated in the last 0.2% of hominid
history, but ‘only’ in the last 15% of modern human history. Still,
even that seems too concentrated a bout of simultaneous emergences
to be coincidental. Was it just that the origins of behaviourally
modern Homo sapiens set clocks ticking by chance at the same rate all
over the globe? That strains credulity, especially as intensified
hunter–gatherer economies failed to arise in more areas than the
areas in which they did arise.
A possible explanation seems to me to derive from four
developments in the Late Pleistocene that may indeed have driven the
clock’s ticking. First, improvements in human hunting skills and
consequent depletion or extermination of large mammalian prey
would have made the hunter–gatherer lifestyle less rewarding and
less able to compete with food production. Second was the development of human technology to collect, process and store wild foods
(such as wild cereals), without which subsequently exploiting the
same food species as domesticates would have been impossible (that
is, what is the point of sowing wheat if you have not yet determined
how to reap, roast and store it?). The third development was the
on-going competition between human societies, such that those
societies with more effective technology at any moment prevailed
over other societies. Fourth, the gradual rise in human population
numbers through the Pleistocene required intensified food procurement to feed those larger populations.
Against that background of gradual change, a trigger that may
have caused intensification and food production to emerge only
after the end of the Pleistocene would have been the end-ofPleistocene climate changes in temperature, rainfall and unpredictability. These changes could have triggered the broad-spectrum
reduction in diet14–17, and made agriculture possible in areas where it
would have been impossible during the Ice Ages (for example,
expanding Fertile Crescent woodland habitats with understories of
wild cereals41). Once food production had thus begun, the
autocatalytic nature of the many changes accompanying domestication (for example, more food stimulating population growth that
required still more food) made the transition rapid. By this interpretation, the independent emergences of food production are no
longer remarkably simultaneous — they could not have happened
before the end of the Pleistocene (11000 BC), and after the end of the
Pleistocene they occurred at very different times, ranging from
about 8500 BC (in the Fertile Crescent) to about 2500 BC (eastern
North America). Most of the links in this speculative hypothesis are
in obvious need of testing.
Multiple versus single domestications
A long-standing question concerns whether each crop and livestock
species stems from a single domestication event within a restricted
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not even spread the mere 2,000 km north to Mexico and south to the
Andes, respectively, by the time that Europeans arrived in AD 1492.
Primary versus secondary homelands
Figure 3 The continental major axis is oriented east–west for Eurasia but
north–south for the Americas and Africa. The spread of food production tended to
occur more rapidly along east–west axes than along north–south axes, mainly
because locations at the same latitudes required less evolutionary change or
adaptation of domesticates than did locations at different latitudes. Modified from
Fig. 10.1 of ref. 1.
geographic area, or from multiple independent domestications at
different sites. An accumulation of recent evidence suggests to me the
following generalization: that the former interpretation applies to
most major Eurasian crops, the latter interpretation to many New
World crops and the major Eurasian livestock species.
Among New World crops, many are represented by distinct but
related species in South America, Mesoamerica and the eastern
United States, leaving no doubt that related species were domesticated independently in these areas (for example, beans, chenopods,
chilli peppers, cotton, squashes, tobaccos and possibly amaranths).
Multiple independent domestications are attested within the same
species for the chilli pepper species Capsicum annuum, common
bean Phaseolus vulgaris, lima bean Phaseolus lunatus and squash
species Cucurbita pepo4,7,8,42. Conversely, the eight crops that founded
Fertile Crescent agriculture, with the possible exception of barley,
each seem to derive from only a single domestication event5,9,43–45.
Evidence for separate independent domestications in western and
more eastern parts of Eurasia are now available for all of the ‘big five’
domesticated mammals (cow, sheep, goat, pig and horse), plus one of
the ‘minor nine’ (water buffalo)46–54. For example, cows were
domesticated independently in the Fertile Crescent (yielding modern humpless cows), in the Indian subcontinent (yielding
modern humped Zebu cows) and in North Africa46,50,53.
I suggest the following hypothesis to explain predominantly
single domestications of Fertile Crescent founder crops, but multiple
domestications of Eurasian livestock and many New World crops.
Except for barley and flax, the wild ancestors of the Fertile Crescent
founder crops had restricted geographic ranges confined to the area
between modern Turkey and western Iran, while chickpea was even
more narrowly restricted, to southeastern Turkey. Those small geographic ranges, plus the rapid spread of domesticates along Eurasia’s
east–west axis, meant that, once a wild plant had been domesticated,
it spread so rapidly that further independent domestications of the
same or related species were pre-empted. The large Eurasian
mammals, however, had such wide geographic ranges (in the case of
pigs extending for 13,000 km from Spain to China) that there was
ample time for independent domestications at locations west and
east of each other. In the New World, even though all the homelands
of agriculture lay within only 4000 km of each other, the slowness of
crop diffusion along the New World’s north–south axis meant that
repeated independent domestications were frequent. So slow was
that diffusion that the New World’s main animal domesticates — the
llama and guinea pig of the Andes, and the turkey of Mexico — had
NATURE | VOL 418 | 8 AUGUST 2002 |
In several parts of the world, food production arose only upon the
arrival of domesticates from the primary homelands, whereupon
people proceeded to domesticate some local wild plants or animals that
had not been domesticated previously9. Clear examples of such
‘secondary’ homelands, in which local domestication was triggered by
the arrival of Fertile Crescent crops, were Europe (local domestication
of poppies and possibly oats) and Egypt (chufa and sycamore fig).
The recognition of those secondary homelands requires us to
reconsider the supposed primary homelands. On the one hand, some
of the primary homelands may better be viewed as consisting of multiple homelands in which distinct systems of food production arose
nearby but independently of each other. This is especially true for the
homeland of Andes/Amazonia, which actually comprised primary
highland sites in the Andes as well as primary lowland sites scattered
from Panama through the Amazon Basin to the Pacific coast of
Ecuador and Peru55,56. Similarly, the Mesoamerican and Fertile Crescent homelands may have consisted of a mixture of highland and
lowland sites, while China probably included northern and southern
sites in the Yellow River and Yangtze River basins, respectively, as well
as coastal lowland and interior upland sites.
On the other hand, some of the nine candidates for primary
homelands may actually be secondary homelands in which domestication was triggered by the arrival of domesticates or of farmers from
elsewhere. Independent origins of food production seem indisputable for five of the candidates (the Fertile Crescent, China,
Mesoamerica, South America and eastern United States), because
they were the earliest sites of domestication in their respective parts of
the world. But questions have been raised, at least in conversation,
regarding the independence of the other four candidates. Especially
uncertain is the status of Ethiopia, where it is unknown whether
several undoubted local domesticates (teff, coffee, finger millet, chat,
noog and ensete) were cultivated before or only after the arrival of
Fertile Crescent domesticates, and the New Guinea highlands, where
remains of irrigation and drainage systems attest to early agriculture
but where the first crops grown remain unidentified and the earliest
dates of food production remain disputed. The independence of
even the eastern United States has been challenged recently42,57, but
the evidence seems compelling that Mexican crops arrived there only
by way of southwestern United States and only long after local eastern
origins of domestication8,58. Conversely, in southern India the
exact dates of arrival of Fertile Crescent domesticates and of earliest
cultivation of local domesticates remain uncertain.
Mechanism of the spread of food production
As already noted, the spread of agriculture from its homelands
involved in a few cases the acquisition of domesticates by
hunter–gatherers outside the homelands, and in more cases the
spread of farmers themselves from the homelands. The contributions
of these two processes await resolution in many other cases. For example, contrary to what I wrote five years ago1, the spread of farming in
coastal west Mediterranean Europe (in the form of the Cardial and
impressed ware cultures) now seems to have involved the rapid transport by sea of a complete package of Neolithic domesticates around
5400 BC by colonizing pioneer farmers59. The Yayoi horizon, which
marks the arrival of intensive rice agriculture in Japan, and which
Japanese scholars until recently preferred to view as an adoption of
mainland practices by the indigenous pre-existing Japanese population, now seems increasingly likely on genetic evidence to represent
the arrival, population increase and spread of Korean farmers33.
Why large domestic mammals were mainly Eurasian
Part of the reason why large domestic mammals were mainly
Eurasian is simply that Eurasia, being the largest continent and
© 2002 Nature Publishing Group
insight review articles
having escaped the Late-Pleistocene extinctions that eliminated
most large mammal species of the Americas and Australia60, has the
largest number of large wild mammal species. But there is a second
part to the answer — a much higher percentage of large mammal
species proved domesticable in Eurasia (18%) than in any other
continent (Table 9.2 of ref. 1). Especially striking is the contrast of
Eurasia with sub-Saharan Africa, where none of the 51 large mammal
species was domesticable.
This difference constitutes a problem not in human behaviour,
but in animal behaviour and sociobiology — something about
African environments selected for one or more of the six mammalian
traits that made domestication difficult. We already have some clues,
as many of Africa’s large mammals are species of antelopes and other
open-country mammals whose herds lack the follow-the-leader
dominance hierarchies characterizing Eurasian cattle, sheep, goats
and horses3,61. To resolve this problem, I suggest attempting to
assign one or more of the six traits derailing domestication to each of
the non-domesticated large mammal species of Eurasia and Africa,
then evaluating the environmental factors behind the evolution of
that trait.
History of domestication of particular species
The history of domestication is much better understood for domesticates of western Eurasia than of other parts of world. Taking Zohary &
Hopf ’s9 account of western Eurasian plant domestication as a gold
standard, it will be a challenge to workers on other biotas to match
that standard. Even for western Eurasia, important unanswered
questions abound. To mention only one out of dozens, calculation of
molecular divergence times between dogs and wolves suggests that
domestication of wolves began around 100,000 years ago62,63, yet the
marked morphological differences between wolves and dogs (which
should be easily detectable in fossilized skeletons) do not appear until
about 11,000 years ago. How can the molecular data and the morphological data be reconciled?
The Future of domestication
Further domestications of plants and animals
We humans today depend for our survival on that tiny fraction of
wild species that has been domesticated. Might the rise of molecular
biology, genetics and understanding of animal behaviour help feed
our growing numbers by increasing that tiny fraction? Modern
science has indeed made it technically possible to ‘domesticate’
species undomesticable in the past, in the sense that we achieve far
more draconian control over the captive breeding of endangered
California condors (computer-matched for mating to maximize
genetic diversity) than the low-tech control that ancient animal
breeders exerted over their livestock. But although this ‘domestication’ is of great interest to conservation biologists, it holds no promise
of a condor industry to displace chicken from the supermarkets.
What wild species might now be domesticated with profit?
It is instructive to reflect on the meagre additions to our repertoire
of domestic species in recent millennia, despite monumental efforts.
Of the world’s 14 valuable big domestic mammals, the sole addition
within the last millennium has been the reindeer, one of the least
valuable of the 14. (In contrast, the five most valuable — the sheep,
goat, cow, pig and horse — had all been domesticated repeatedly by
4000 BC.) Long-ongoing efforts by modern livestock breeders to
domesticate other large wild mammals have resulted either in virtual
failure (for example, eland, elk, moose, musk ox and zebra), or else in
ranched animals (deer and American bison) that still cannot be herded and that remain of trivial economic value compared to the five
most valuable mammals. Instead, all of the mammalian species that
have recently become well established as domesticates (for example,
arctic fox, chinchilla, hamster, laboratory rat and rabbit) are small
mammals dwarfed in usefulness as well as in size by cows and sheep.
Similarly, whereas several wild plants were first domesticated only in
modern times (for example, blueberries, macadamia nuts, pecans
and strawberries), their value is insignificant compared to that of
ancient domesticates such as wheat and rice.
Our best hopes for valuable new domesticates lie in recognizing the
specific difficulties that previously derailed domestication of particular
valuable wild species, and using modern science to overcome those
difficulties. For instance, now that we understand the polygenic control
of non-bitterness in acorns, perhaps we could use that knowledge to
select for oaks with non-bitter acorns, just as ancient farmers selected
for non-bitterness controlled by a single gene in almonds. I am
concerned, however, that such attempts may in the long run do us
more harm than good. Humanity’s greatest risk today is of our growing
numbers and aspirations ultimately destroying our society by destroying our environment. Providing undernourished people with more
food would be a laudable goal if it were inexorably linked to reducing
our numbers, but in the past more food has always resulted in more
people. Only when crop and animal breeders take the lead in reducing
our numbers and our impacts will they end up by doing us net good.
Further domestication of humans
Some genotypes that used to serve us well as hunter–gatherers now
serve us poorly as first-world citizens who forage only in supermarkets
— especially metabolically thrifty genotypes that now predispose to
type II diabetes, salt-conserving genotypes that predispose to hypertension, and other genotypes predisposing to other cardiovascular
diseases and lipid disorders. As formerly spartan populations become
westernized (‘coca-colonized’)64, they fall victim to these diseases of
the western lifestyle, extreme examples being the 70% incidence of
type II diabetes in those Nauru Islanders and Pima Indians lucky
enough to survive to the age of 60 (ref. 65). Because diabetes now
afflicts south Asians and Pacific Islanders already in their twenties with
high morbidity and mortality, there has been detectable natural selection against the predisposing genotypes even within just recent
decades. The lower frequency of type II diabetes in Europeans than in
non-Europeans matched for diet and lifestyle suggests that natural
selection had already reduced European frequencies of those
genotypes in previous centuries, as the western lifestyle was developing in Europe. In effect, the unconscious domestication of humans by
agriculture that began over 10,000 years ago is still underway.
Even more such gene-frequency changes, also known as illness and
deaths, are expected in the near future, as westernization accelerates in
the world’s two most populous countries, China and India66,67. For
example, the incidence of type II diabetes in mainland China, until
recently less than 1%, has already tripled in some areas. What lies
ahead for China can be projected by considering overseas Chinese
populations in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Mauritius, where
westernization is further advanced and the incidence of type II diabetes
is up to 17%. Similarly, the incidence in overseas Indian populations
such as that of Fiji gives a foretaste of diabetes’ future in India itself.
The resulting projections are that the number of cases of diabetes
is expected to increase worldwide by 46% from the year 2000 to 2010,
to reach around 220 million in 2010 and around 300 million in 2025.
The steepest increase will be in east Asia (including China and India),
the projected home of 60% of the world’s diabetics in 2010. Similar
diet-related disease epidemics are underway in less numerous
peoples (from Africans to Aboriginal Australians), involving not just
diabetes but also hypertension and other conditions. Thus, these
epidemics pose the same dilemma as do efforts to domesticate more
wild plant and animal species: how can we ensure that agriculture
spreads only happiness, and not suffering as well?

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© 2002 Nature Publishing Group
Applied Geography 34 (2012) 519e524
Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect
Applied Geography
journal homepage:
Chinese drought, bread and the Arab Spring
Troy Sternberg*
School of Geography, Oxford University, South Parks Road, Oxford, OX2 6HY, UK
a b s t r a c t
Standard precipitation index
Arab spring
In 2011 winter drought in eastern China’s wheat-growing region had significant implications beyond the
country’s borders. Potential crop failure due to drought led China to buy wheat on the international
market and contributed to a doubling of global wheat prices; the resultant price spikes had a serious
economic impact in Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, where bread prices tripled. Quantifying
the 2011 drought in China’s wheat region with the Standard Precipitation Index identified extreme
drought across the region that peaked in January 2011. Findings document the spatial extent and severity
of the drought as the most serious on record and explain China’s efforts to minimize the 2011 drought’s
domestic impact. The country’s mitigation efforts had repercussions in Egypt where high food prices
were a contributory factor to civil unrest. Tracking the drought e wheat price rise e protest trajectory
suggests the potential direct and indirect links between natural hazards, food security and political
stability at local and global scales.
Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Drought in China has been a serious disaster throughout the
country’s history and has been cited for its contributory impact on
social unrest and wars in the last millennium (Bruins & Bu, 2006).
Identified as the hazard with the greatest global impact (Keyantash
& Dracup, 2002), droughts are significant in China because of the
number of people affected, economic losses and environmental
damage that result (Zhai & Feng, 2009). Historically vulnerable to
drought, China’s agricultural regions experienced a serious event
that climaxed in January 2011 (Wu et al., 2011; Yu, 2011). That
drought can have significant domestic impact is clear; the possible
global consequence of China’s drought is a recent development
(Sternberg, 2011). This paper assesses the drought’s link to global
wheat prices and revolution in Egypt to highlight how natural
hazards may affect food security and influence political stability. It
broadens the scope of climate inquiry and suggests a potential
research agenda that examines hazard impact on socio-political
The scenario encompasses the role of bread in Egypt, winter
wheat crop failure in China due to drought and the global wheat
market. It reflects the vulnerability of countries seeking food
security e in this case wheat e in their pursuit of stability and how
climate hazards can reach a global scope. Egypt’s geography and
population combine to create a dependency on imported wheat
and a subsequent exposure to external commodity factors. China’s
past self-sufficiency in wheat, weather monitoring and capital
reserves reduced the impact of climate variability on domestic food
supplies. How both countries dealt with the perception of risk is
key e China’s awareness of drought’s domestic implications led to
mitigation efforts whilst the Egyptian government failed to grasp
the social repercussions of escalating bread prices.
Widespread drought across the Eurasian steppe in 2010e11 and
weather events elsewhere disrupted global wheat production,
resulting in shortages and price spikes (USDA 2011). In Egypt, the
world’s largest wheat importer, government legitimacy and social
stability were upset by protests focused on political discontent,
poverty and escalating bread prices (Johnstone & Mazo, 2011; USDA
2011). Drought impact on food supply is well documented (AntwiAgyei, Fraser, Dougill, Stringer, & Simelton, 2012); tracking its
influence in 2011 identifies how a poor harvest in one country may
affect the price of wheat internationally and may have contributed
to unrest in Egypt. By assessing drought scientifically with meteorological data and drought indices this paper assesses the severity
of China’s 2011 drought and potential implications for global food
Social background
* Tel.: þ44 (0) 1865 285070; fax: þ44 (0) 1865 275885.
E-mail address:
0143-6228/$ e see front matter Ó 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
The 2011 Egyptian protests were instigated by political and
socio-economic conditions in the country. As the world’s attention
T. Sternberg / Applied Geography 34 (2012) 519e524
was focused on protests in Tahrir Square, political and socioeconomic motives were discussed while significant indirect causes of the Arab Spring received little mention. Important economic
factors included the high cost of living, 40% of the population in
poverty and increasing food prices (Nowaira, 2011). Bread became
an expression of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the waving of bread
becoming a symbol of protest. Local reports identified sporadic
bread shortages and 300% price increases. The Wall Street Journal
headline on February 1st read ‘Non-Political Bread Riots Are Breaking
Out In Egypt, Killing Three’; ten days later President Hosni Mubarak
was gone from office (Lubin, 2011). The role of bread and events
that affected wheat prices provide vital insight into processes that
contributed to popular unrest in winter 2011.
Bread is the staple of the Egyptian diet, providing 33% of an
Egyptian’s daily caloric intake (FAO, 2006). It is particularly
important for poor residents as Egyptians spend 38% of their
income on food. Government subsidies fix the price of pita bread at
0.05 Egyptian pounds (approximately $0.01 USD) for an unlimited
supply (Trego, 2011). As a cornerstone of Egyptian domestic policy
for decades bread subsidies have been used to maintain social
stability; the country spends 3% of gross domestic product on
wheat subsidies (Zawya 2011). History provides perspective on the
importance of bread as the previous largest protests in Egypt
occurred in 1977 over its price. At the time attempts to eliminate
wheat subsidies led to mass protests in Cairo that came to be
known as the ‘Bread Intifada’ (Salevurakis & Abdel-Haleim, 2008).
More recently, in 2008 protests over food broke out when the
global price of wheat increased 130%. At that time a tripling of
wheat prices led to demonstrations and strikes with access as well
as price becoming major issues (Bush 2010; Johnstone & Mazo,
Disruption to wheat supply, price or availability, domestically or
globally, has a significant impact in Egypt. Wheat importing
countries remain at risk to weather variability, area under cultivation and economic forces at a global scale. In 2010 climate factors
led to a decrease in wheat production in major exporting countries
e this is significant because only 18% of wheat production is
exported (Lampietti et al., 2011). Summer drought and extreme
heat across the Eurasian steppe diminished the harvest in Russia
(down 32.7%) and Ukraine (down 19.3%) while cold weather and
rain in Canada (down 13.7%) and excessive rain in Australia (down
8.7%) further reduced harvests (USDA 2011). The result was
a shortfall of wheat available on the world market for importing
nations. The prospect of crop failure for a population as large as
China’s and its impact in a global market already experiencing
supply shortfalls had serious implications for both local and international supply.
In summer 2010 Russia, Egypt’s main wheat source, banned
exports due to potential domestic shortages. This contributed to
a 5% decrease in imports to Egypt in 2010 that stressed local supply
and necessitated additional external purchases (Table 1). Bread
shortages followed and price increases in parts of the country
contributed to bread-inspired demonstrations. These were portrayed as being separate from political protests (Lubin, 2011) or an
aggravating factor rather than a cause of unrest (Johnstone & Mazo,
2011). Their resonance with the wider public as an expression of
dissatisfaction merged with demonstrations calling for the
government to be replaced.
China & wheat
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of wheat.
Wheat noodles are an integral part of the diet in northern China
while rice consumption is dominant in southern regions. At
115,000 metric tons per annum the Chinese consume approximately 18e20% of the world wheat harvest. The country’s wheat
belt is centred around Henan, Anhui and neighbouring provinces
(Fig. 1), a region with a combined population of >300 million,
a figure similar to that of the Middle East (CIA 2010). Most years
China is self-sufficient with the winter wheat crop providing 22% of
the annual harvest. For the Chinese government maintaining
adequate food supply and grain reserves is essential for preserving
social stability (Bruins & Bu, 2006). Pork shortages in 2008 caused
prices to double, resulting in panic buying and widespread public
unrest. Mindful of this experience, the government realizes that
potential food scarcity, in this case of wheat, can affect prices and
fuel public dissatisfaction.
Reports of low precipitation levels in China’s eastern wheat belt
began in November, 2010 (Yu, 2011). Agricultural conditions
worsened in December as drought encompassed much of the
region. Recognizing the threat to the nation’s winter harvest
prompted the Chinese government to take action, including efforts
to increase water supply, create greater access to groundwater,
supplement irrigation and to purchase wheat on the world market
e cautionary measures supported by China’s vast foreign reserves.
A poor 2010 harvest in major exporting nations (Russia et al.) and
a winter 2011 shortfall in China put pressure on global wheat
supplies. China’s increased purchases resulted in further price
spikes as the wheat price per metric ton more than doubled from
June 2010 to February 2011 (USDA 2011; Johnstone & Mazo, 2011).
The drought served as the catalyst for China’s external purchase of
wheat with resultant impact across several scales, the action
motivated by the perceived direct relationship between food and
politics in the country.
Table 1
Egyptian annual wheat imports.
Metric tons (in ’000s)
Increase/decrease e %
USDA 2011.
Fig. 1. Map of China’s main wheat-growing region.
T. Sternberg / Applied Geography 34 (2012) 519e524
Claims of drought can be used to justify policy or action and in
the past have been difficult to assess prima facie. Today global
climate monitoring, including weather and satellite data, enables
improved hazard monitoring and evaluation (Montz & Tobin, 2011).
This paper examines the 2011 winter drought in the agricultural
region of eastern China through analysis of meteorological data. It
then reviews the potential links between drought-related events in
China, the global wheat market and wheat supply and the price of
bread in Egypt in winter, 2011. Whilst 2011 meteorological records
have been used, as a recent event there is little related academic
literature. This paper uses alternate sources where there is an
absence of scientific data.
Much recent work has addressed historic drought trends in
China (Li, Cook, D’arrigo, Chenb, & Gou, 2008; Zhai & Feng, 2009;
Qui 2010). Wu et al. (2011) highlight agricultural vulnerability to
drought; Wang et al. (2011) note an increasing susceptibility to
drought whilst He, Lü, Wu, Liu, and Zhao (2011) stress eastern
China’s drought susceptibility. Using the Standard Precipitation
Index (SPI) this paper focuses on the winter 2011 event to identify
drought in the wheat-growing region of eastern China. After constructing the drought record the paper evaluates how drought is
linked to wheat production and world commodity markets.
The SPI can effectively monitor drought at selected timescales,
enabling focus on key winter months when drought was first
reported in China (Keyantash & Dracup, 2002; Sonmez, Komuscu,
Erkhan, & Turgu, 2005; Yu, 2011). Developed to define drought
and identify spatial and temporal extent, the SPI involves a gamma
probability function for a selected frequency distribution of
precipitation at a meteorological station (McKee, Doeskan, & Kleist,
1993). Based on monthly data, the index results reflect the anomaly
from the long-term mean precipitation for the selected timescale.
Data is transformed to a normal distribution that enables
comparison between sites and probability calculation.1
Because of this SPI can identify drought at individual stations at
designated timescales (1, 3, 6 . months) for desired months to
construct the drought record (Mihajlovic, 2006; Sternberg, Thomas, &
Middleton, 2011). Drought intensity reflects the strength or magnitude of an event and represents the cumulative monthly values that
exceed an established threshold with duration identified by the
number of continuous months below the threshold (Guttman, 1999;
McKee et al., 1993). Severity measures the gravity or acuteness
a drought manifest by the number of standard deviations from the
precipitation mean; thus a moderate drought (1 to 1.49) has a 9.2%
chance of occurrence, a severe drought (1.5 to 1.99) a 4.6% probability and an extreme drought ( 0 (see
Mihajlovic, 2006).
Fig. 2. Map of meteorological stations in eastern China.
wheat belt highlighted the dramatic extenuation of drought;
findings documented extreme conditions across the region reaching w100-year event levels (Table 3). Identifying the seriousness of
the drought is only limited by the shortness of the historical
precipitation record (w60 years); for instance local anecdotal
sources report the drought to be the worst in Shandong Province in
the last 200 years (China Daily, 2011). The 12 stations experienced
short-term drought with all sites in drought at the 3 month timescale through January 31, 2011 (Mishra & Desai, 2005). This period
covers the winter wheat-growing season and suggests a serious
impact on agricultural production. At the 6 month medium-term
timescale (winter and spring 2011) drought intensity was at critical levels; all sites were in 6 month drought through April 30,
2011 with two-thirds in extreme condition. The probability of
continued acute precipitation deficits, such as experienced at
Wuhan, Huoshan and Anqing, is exceedingly rare.
Particularly notable are the spatial distribution of drought across
eastern China and the severity of the event. All stations (excepting
Bengbu) reached extreme drought levels, most at several monthly
timescales. Fig. 3 shows the distribution of extreme drought over
the 6 month period. The figure identifies how extreme drought
occurrence greatly exceeded (by up to 35 times) the expected
probability. This emphasizes how as the winter drought continued
Table 2
Meteorological stations in eastern China. Mean Annual Precipitation (MAP) is
derived from >50 years data at each site.
China Meteorological Administration 2011.
T. Sternberg / Applied Geography 34 (2012) 519e524
Table 3
Short-term (a) and medium-term (b) drought. Shaded areas represent moderate and
severe drought; bold signifies extreme drought. SPI drought values:

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