The development of late-Holocene farmed landscapes: analysis of insect assemblages using a multi-period dataset

David Smith, Geoff HIll, Harry Kenward

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3 Citations (Scopus)
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Global agricultural intensification and expansion has led to the spread of a fairly cosmopolitan insect fauna associated with arable land and pasture. Studies of modern expansion and intensification of agriculture have shown profound effects in terms of declines in biodiversity, with implications for current nature conservation. However, modern entomological studies of farmland faunas do not
consider if such effects occurred over a longer period of time or are merely a modern phenomenon.We examine the substantial British archaeoentomological dataset for the development of beetle (Coleoptera) faunas in a range of intensively farmed archaeological landscapes dating from the Late Neolithic through to the early Medieval period (c. 24,000 cal. BC – AD 900). The archaeological beetle fauna typically consisted of generalist species which still dominate modern farmland. Our analysis indicates that there is an essentially stable ‘core group’ of taxa that repeatedly occur regardless of period, location or the specific nature of the archaeological feature involved. On the basis of this
result, we argue that the effects of the expansion of intensive farming on insect faunas seen in the modern world is a continuation of a longer pattern. We suggest that this is an example of human econiche replacement and ecosystem engineering. The approach taken here is applicable elsewhere in the world and we offer suggestions for future British and international research strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-63
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number1
Early online date19 Oct 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Oct 2018


  • coleoptera
  • prehistoric farming
  • field systems
  • landscape development
  • econiche replacement
  • archaeoentomology


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