Geckos, Environmental History, and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

Historians are collaborating with scientists in new ways these days, especially in the growing field of environmental history. Scholars are making new and fascinating discoveries about the long history of human transformations of environments.

Historians of the Columbian Exchange, beginning with groundbreaking environmental historian Alfred Crosby, have argued that the environmental changes wrought by trans-oceanic and global exchanges from c. 1500 to today have been monumental. Some scholars use the term “anthropocene” to describe a new era in earth’s history based on human’s ability to transform global environmental systems and affect climate change.

Geckos offer a nice example of how environmental history and science can provide new perspectives on humans’ roles in reshaping the natural environment.

Often overlooked as a “trash” species according to one researcher, the African house gecko has spread far and wide in the Americas.
African house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)

The New York Times reports: “Little and brown, the African house gecko is now widespread in the Western Hemisphere. But the gecko originated in southeastern Africa, from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and nearby areas. So how did it cross an ocean and come here?”

A new study of various lineages of the African house gecko, Hemidactylus mabouia, provides evidence on the spread of this species of gecko in the Americas. Ishan Agarwal, et al, recently published their findings in an article entitled, “How the African house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) conquered the world,” in The Royal Society.

According to The New York Times, “the paper also offers a new way to test an old hypothesis — that African house geckos stowed away on vessels involved with the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The slave trade is also thought to have transported the Aedes aegypti mosquito and several earthworm species to the Americas from the African continent, and the new research further reveals its ecological effects in addition to its human toll.”

Ishan Agarwal, et al, “How the African house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) conquered the world,” is published by The Royal Society.

Alfred W. Crosby’s study of the Columbian Exchange was originally published in 1972. A new edition was released in 2003: Alfred W. Crosby, Jr. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492, 30th Anniversary Edition (Praeger, 2003).

This entry was posted in Atlantic World, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, Environmental History, Globalization, History of Science, Maritime History, Renaissance Art and History, World History. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.