Columbian Exchange was a dramatically widespread
exchange of animals, foods, human populations (including slaves), communicable diseases, and ideas
between the Eastern and Western hemispheres that occurred after Christopher
Columbus landed in the Americas.
It was one of the most
significant events concerning ecology
, and culture
in all of human history. Christopher Columbus
' first voyage
launched an era of large-scale contact between the Old
and the New Worlds
that resulted in this ecological revolution: hence the name
The Columbian Exchange greatly affected almost every society on
earth. New diseases introduced by Europeans (many of which diseases
had originated in Asia) to which indigenous people had no immunity,
depopulated many cultures. By some estimates, nearly 80 percent of
the native population of the Americas was wiped out from the
introduction of Eurasian diseases.
On the other hand, the contact between the two areas circulated a
wide variety of new crops and livestock which supported increases
in population. Explorers returned to Europe with maize
, and tomatoes
, which became very important crops in
Eurasia by the 18th century. Similarly, Europeans introduced
and the peanut
to tropical Southeast Asia
, where they flourished and
supported growth in populations on soils that otherwise would not
produce large yields.
This exchange of plants and animals transformed European, American,
African, and Asian ways of life. Of the world's top 26 crops,
measured by weight of production, eight originated in the Americas.
One third of the crop value within the United States depends on
foods that were first grown in the Americas.
New foods became staples of human diets, and new growing regions
opened up for crops. For
example, before AD 1000, potatoes were not grown outside of
. By the 1840s, Ireland was so
dependent on the potato that a diseased crop led to the devastating
Irish Potato Famine.
Since being introduced by 16th century Portuguese traders, who
brought them from the Americas, maize
replaced traditional African
crops as the continent’s most important
staple food crops. New crops that had come to Asia
from the Americas via Spanish colonizers in the
16th century, including maize
and sweet potatoes
, contributed to the population
growth in Asia, too.
One of the
first European exports, the horse, changed the
lives of many Native American tribes
on the Great
Plains, allowing them to shift to a nomadic lifestyle based on hunting bison on horseback. Tomato sauce, made from New World tomatoes, became an
Italian trademark, while coffee from
Africa and sugar cane from Asia became
the main crops of extensive Latin
to India by the
Portuguese, the chili/paprika from South America is today an integral part
of Indian cuisine.
Columbian Exchange, there were no orange in Florida, no bananas in Ecuador, no paprika in Hungary, no tomatoes in Italy, no coffee in Colombia, no pineapples in Hawaii, no rubber trees in Africa, no cattle in Texas, no donkeys in Mexico, no chili peppers in Thailand and India, no cigarettes in France, and no
chocolate in Switzerland.
brought to America by European
for use as an herb
Before regular communication had been established between the two
hemispheres, the varieties of domesticated animals and infectious diseases
, such as smallpox,
were strikingly larger in the Old World than in the New, in part
because many migrated west or were brought by traders from Asia, so
diseases of two continents were suffered by all. "Old World"
diseases had a devastating impact on Native American populations
because they had no natural immunity to the new diseases. While
Europeans and Asians were affected by them, their endemic status in
those areas caused some people to build immunity. The smallpox
epidemics probably resulted in the largest
death tolls for Native Americans.
Scarcely any society on earth remained unaffected by this global
In addition to the diseases mentioned above, many species of
organisms were introduced to new habitats on the other side of the
world accidentally or incidentally. These include such animals as
(apparently absent from parts of the
pre-Columbian New World), and zebra
, which arrived on ships.
Plants also were introduced by chance, including such weeds as
. Some plants introduced intentionally, such as
kudzu brought from Japan to the
United States in 1894 to help control soil
erosion, have been found to be invasive pests in the new
Even fungi have been transported, such as the
one responsible for Dutch elm
. Some of these species have become serious nuisances
upon being established in new environments.
Plants introduced to Europe after 1492 are called Neophytes
, whereas plants that made it over the sea
before that date are called Archaeophytes
- "The Impact of the Potato", History
- "Super-Sized Cassava Plants May Help Fight Hunger
In Africa", The Ohio State University
- "Maize Streak Virus-Resistant Transgenic Maize: an
African solution to an African Problem", Scitizen,
August 7, 2007
- "China's Population: Readings and Maps", Columbia
University, East Asian Curriculum Project
- "The Story Of... Smallpox – and other Deadly Eurasian
Germs", Guns, Germs and Steel, PBS