History of Dama dama introduction

Dama dama is native to the region around Greece and Turkey, and possibly to parts of the Italian Peninsula. It was moved around by humans in the Mediterranean a long time ago (starting around 9000 years ago), and introduced into many areas.

It’s easily possible that it’s considered native to Friuli Venezia Giulia, but introduced to the Alps as a whole. The Alps is a much larger region and Friuli Venezia Giulia only overlaps a little bit with the Alps.

There is no real conflict there.

The IUCN range map is a bit conflicted, as they often are, but spells it out decently well. Although it looks like it does not include Friuli Venezia Giulia as part of the native range.

The wikipedia map also makes this clear.

The key for the Wikipedia map is here:
1: (Former) native, includes D. mesopotamica
2: Possibly native
3: Early human introductions
4: Modern human introductions

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That’s not the full story though, as Dama dama used to occur much farther west and north in Europe during previous interglacials when temperatures where similar to what they are now. If it weren’t for hunting pressure and man-made barriers they probably would have recolonized Europe themselves by now. I think organizations like IUCN have too short a memory, which leads us to declare species that are actually native introduced.

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Horses used to be in North America, as well as various Proboscidea, camels, etc. Even though horses were brought back to North America they’re not considered native any more. Homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread out some 100,000 years ago (we keep pushing the dates back), Homo erectus did the same nearly 2 million years ago.

You have to have some sort of cut-off line for when you draw the line between native and non-native. It’ll vary by species and place, it’s a very different discussion when considering the Americas or Australia/New Zealand than it is Europe/Asia/Africa, but you still need to have some criteria for making that decision.

If you decide to arbitrarily move the time-frame for “native” back, then you have to do the same for non-native, which would mean that a bunch of species currently considered native would no-longer fall into that category.

IUCN uses what I’d consider to be reasonable cut-off points for considering species to be native or otherwise, and it’s important to remember that they aren’t the ones making said distinction, it’s the researchers who work with said species. IUCN jus collects and organizes the data and research others have generated and done.

Regarding interglacial excursions of Dama dama into more northern and western portions of Europe, it appears that those are considered to be different species of Dama, not Dama dama (previously some of them were considered to be subspecies.

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IUCN’s cut-off point of 1500 AD is insane. By that point almost all continents had already lost their megafauna, their flightless birds, their giant tortoises and large scavenging birds due to us, and many islands had already had their native fauna wiped out. Landscapes across entire continents had already been converted into something unrecognizable to their natural state.

In my opinion, if a species occurred somewhere by the time the first Homo sapiens arrived there, it should be considered native to that area, because by far the most likely cause of it no longer being there is us. That’s a much less arbitrary cut-off point than 1500 AD.

Assigning subspecies/species status to very closely related prehistoric animals is a very imprecise science, and at least partly subjective. Dama dama and Dama geiselana would have most likely been almost identical from an ecological standpoint. I think species purism in cases like this leads to pretty silly situations, where if it turns out the two forms of Dama are 0.1% more different in their DNA you can’t have Fallow Deer in western Europe because non-native, but if they turn out to be 0.1% closer you can.


The reason for the 1500 date is due to the Columbian Exchange. This was the largest “unnatural” transfer of species between locations the planet has ever experienced in its entire history and is continuing to this day. At times thousands of novel species per year are transferred between entire continents and hemispheres, species that for which a “natural” transfer would have been utterly impossible.

The impact this has had on species distributions as a result of this is nearly impossible to accurately state, and in many areas there were no prior scientific records of what was there (we’ve had to reconstruct them). There are records from 1500 onwards as people recorded what they moved around or when they saw familiar things, so that’s another reason why it makes sense.

As I previously stated the issue of native/non-native gets complicated when discussing Europe/Asia/Africa, but in the sciences you must have a regular and unified way of dealing with data assessments, and in this case 1500 makes very good sense.

There are exceptions as well. For example, the Pacific Rat, Rattus exulans, which is found all through the Pacific Islands as was introduced long before 1500 in most locations, is considered by IUCN not to be native in the Pacific range, so it’s clear that the 1500 date is not a hard and fast one. It’s on a case-by-case basis depending on the area and the consensus of the researchers who study said species and areas.

For the Americas 1500 is pretty much a hard date (which is actually later by 8 years than most sources draw the line) because of the aforementioned Columbian Exchange.


(moved to new topic)

btw, there’s also this paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/hdy201711 that has found some evidence that seems to suggest Fallow Deer populations in Italy and Iberia might not be the result of introductions, but wild populations in natural refugia.

Very interesting thread this turned into. Thank you all.
Ever since I was a child, I took Dama dama to be native here. Thinking back, I realize I am not aware of seeing any in the wild in the past decades – but then I’ve not been paying attention.
I was just confused in seeing that while the species is considered native here it was also marked as introduced (yes, in the Alps, but part of our territory is in the Alps), and that just didn’t make sense to me.
Perhaps the Alps should not be considered as a homogenous territory, stretching as they are from France to Slovenia. We here in the East have species (other than the European Fallow Deer) that are not present at the other end of the Alps, and viceversa.

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