Evolution: artificial selection and domestication
Evolution: artificial selection and domestication

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Evolution: artificial selection and domestication

4 Experimental study of evolution and domestication

4.1 Introduction

Domestication of dogs and of most other livestock took place so long ago that reconstructing the course of events is extremely difficult. Written records and illustrations describing the origins of many modern breeds are also sparse until the 19th century. We can only guess at what the domesticators were aiming to produce and how and when domesticated traits appeared in the species subjected to artificial selection. However, a little-known experiment on the domestication of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) provides unique insight into the relationship between behaviour and structure under artificial selection.

V. vulpes is by far the most successful extant species of the family Canidae. Its natural range is very similar to that of the wolf, comprising Europe, USA and Canada, and northern and central Asia (including almost the whole of Russia, China and Japan), but in contrast to wolves, foxes are still widespread and common in many areas. Its coat colour varies from red (Figure 13a) to very dark brown; the underparts are usually paler, sometimes white, and the ears, legs and feet are darker, often almost black, and a white tip on the tail is common. So far as we know, the species has never been domesticated, though it has long been hunted for its valuable fur and, especially in Russia, kept in captivity for the same purpose.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus