The dog was the first domesticated vertebrate, and was established across Eurasia before the end of the Late Pleistocene era, well before cultivation and before the domestication of other animals. The archaeological and genetic data suggest that long-term bidirectional gene flow between wild and domestic stocks – including donkeys, horses, New and Old World camelids, goats, sheep, and pigs – was common. Given its importance to humans and its value as a model of evolutionary and demographic change, domestication has attracted scientists from archaeology, palaeontology, anthropology, botany, zoology, genetics, and the environmental sciences. Among birds, the major domestic species today is the chicken, important for meat and eggs, though economically valuable poultry include the turkey, guineafowl and numerous other species. Birds are also widely kept as cagebirds, from songbirds to parrots. The longest established invertebrate domesticates are the honey bee and the silkworm. Terrestrial snails are raised for food, while species from several phyla are kept for research, and others are bred for biological control.
The domestication of plants began at least 12,000 years ago with cereals in the Middle East, and the bottle gourd in Asia. Agriculture developed in at least 11 different centres around the world, domesticating different crops and animals.
Domestication, from the Latin domesticus, 'belonging to the house', is "a sustained multi-generational, mutualistic relationship in which one organism assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another organism in order to secure a more predictable supply of a resource of interest, and through which the partner organism gains advantage over individuals that remain outside this relationship, thereby benefitting and often increasing the fitness of both the domesticator and the target domesticate." This definition recognizes both the biological and the cultural components of the domestication process and the impacts on both humans and the domesticated animals and plants. All past definitions of domestication have included a relationship between humans with plants and animals, but their differences lay in who was considered as the lead partner in the relationship. This new definition recognizes a mutualistic relationship in which both partners gain benefits. Domestication has vastly enhanced the reproductive output of crop plants, livestock, and pets far beyond that of their wild progenitors. Domesticates have provided humans with resources that they could more predictably and securely control, move, and redistribute, which has been the advantage that had fueled a population explosion of the agro-pastoralists and their spread to all corners of the planet.
Houseplants and ornamentals are plants domesticated primarily for aesthetic enjoyment in and around the home, while those domesticated for large-scale food production are called crops. Domesticated plants deliberately altered or selected for special desirable characteristics are cultigens. Animals domesticated for home companionship are called pets, while those domesticated for food or work are known as livestock.
This biological mutualism is not restricted to humans with domestic crops and livestock but is well-documented in nonhuman species, especially among a number of social insect domesticators and their plant and animal domesticates, for example the ant–fungus mutualism that exists between leafcutter ants and certain fungi.