By: Riley Wagner
When Europe’s, Christopher Columbus, arrived in the Americas, the animal, plant, and bacterial life of these two worlds began to mix. This process was called the Columbian Exchange. By reuniting formerly biologically distinct landmasses, the Columbian Exchange had dramatic and lasting effects on the world. New diseases were introduced to American population that no one was exposed to or had seen before. The results were ended out to be devastating. These populations also were introduced to new weeds, pests, livestock, and pets. New food and fiber crops were introduced to the Americas from Europe improving diets and fomenting trade there. In addition, the Columbian Exchange vastly expanded the scope of production of some popular drugs, bringing the pleasures and consequences of coffee, sugar, and tobacco use to many millions of people. The results of this exchange messed with biology of both regions and altered the history of the world.
By far the most dramatic and devastating impact of the Columbian Exchange followed the introduction of new diseases into the Americas. When the first inhabitants from Europe first came over they brought a bunch of new diseases with them. Why? For one reason, they had no domesticated animals, the original source of human diseases such as smallpox and measles. In addition, when the first Americans passed from Siberia to North America, the first Americans had spent many years in extreme cold, which eliminated many of the disease-causing agents that might have traveled with them. As a result, the first Americans and their descendants, perhaps 40 million to 60 million strong by 1492, enjoyed freedom from most of the infectious diseases that plagued populations in Europe for years.
Soon after 1492, sailors unknowingly introduced these diseases including smallpox, measles, mumps, whooping cough, influenza, chicken pox, and typhus to the Americas. People who lived in Europe had developed some immunity to these diseases because they had long existed among most European populations. However, the Native Americans had no such immunities. Adults and children alike were stricken by wave after wave of epidemic, which produced catastrophic amounts of deaths throughout the Americas. In the larger centers of highland Mexico and Peru, many millions of people died. On some Caribbean islands, the Native American population died out completely. In all, between 1492 and 1650, perhaps 90 percent of the first Americans had died.
This loss is considered among the largest disasters in human history. By stripping the Americas of much of the human population, the Columbian Exchange rocked the region’s ecological and economic balance. Ecosystems were in disturbance as forests regrew and previously hunted animals increased in number. Economically, the population decrease brought by the Columbian Exchange indirectly caused a drastic labor shortage throughout the Americas, which eventually contributed to the establishment of African slavery trade with Europe on a vast scale in the Americas. By 1650, the slave trade had brought new diseases, such as malaria and yellow fever, which further plagued Native Americans.
Eurasians sent much more than disease to the Americas. The introduction of new crops and domesticated animals to the Americas did almost as much to upset the region’s biological, economic, and social balance as the introduction of disease had. Columbus had wanted to establish new fields of plenty in the Americas. On his later voyages he brought many crops he hoped might prosper there. He and his followers brought the familiar food grains of Europe: wheat, barley, and rye. They also brought Mediterranean plantation crops such as sugar, bananas, and citrus fruits. At first, many of these crops fared poorly; but eventually they all flourished. After 1640, sugar became the main crop of the Caribbean and Brazilian economies, becoming the foundation for some of the largest slave societies