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Special Issue "Long-Term Anthropic Influences on the Diversity of Amazonian Landscapes and Biota"

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A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2009)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. William Balée

Department of Anthropology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana 70118, USA
Phone: +1-5048623055
Fax: +1 504 865 5338
Interests: historical ecology; ethnobiology; amazonia

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Forests and savannas of Amazonia represent intersections of nature and culture. Biological evolution and historical contingency have become intertwined in the explanation of landscapes and their attendant biota in Amazonia. Most models of explanation of species distributions across diverse Amazonian environments tend to be incomplete in one way or another. The refuge model and vicariance biogeography explain diversity by genetic drift, and mostly are different in terms of time scale. Neither considers human factors that could have affected local diversity (alpha diversity) and the diversity across disjunctive landscapes (beta diversity). In contrast to these models, historical ecology, as a research program, offers an understanding of Amazonian landscapes and biota that derives from comprehension of historical contingency and the biological preadaptations of species to human activities on the landscapes affected by those activities. Specific kinds of diversity to be examined with insights from historical ecology include heterogeneity of archaeological landscapes, variation in soil microbes due to agrarian technologies of the past (especially Amazon Dark Earths), patterned distributions of flora (both domesticated and not), and fluctuations in microfauna and other fauna due to human impacts of the past.

Prof. Dr. William Balée
Guest Editor

Keywords

  • historical ecology
  • contingency factors
  • alpha and beta diversity
  • landscape heterogeneity
  • agrarian technologies

Published Papers (12 papers)

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Research

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Open AccessArticle A Molecular Survey of the Diversity of Microbial Communities in Different Amazonian Agricultural Model Systems
Diversity 2010, 2(5), 787-809; doi:10.3390/d2050787
Received: 26 March 2010 / Revised: 11 May 2010 / Accepted: 12 May 2010 / Published: 19 May 2010
Cited by 25 | PDF Full-text (463 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The processes of land conversion and agricultural intensification are a significant cause of biodiversity loss, with consequent negative effects both on the environment and the sustainability of food production.The anthrosols associated with pre-Colombian settlements in the Amazonian region are examples of how [...] Read more.
The processes of land conversion and agricultural intensification are a significant cause of biodiversity loss, with consequent negative effects both on the environment and the sustainability of food production.The anthrosols associated with pre-Colombian settlements in the Amazonian region are examples of how anthropogenic activities may sustain the native populations against harsh tropical environments for human establishment, even without a previous intentionality of anthropic soil formation. In a case study (Model I—“Slash-and-Burn”) the community structures detected by automated ribosomal intergenic spacer analysis (ARISA) revealed that soil archaeal, bacterial and fungal communities are heterogeneous and each capable of responding differently to environmental characteristics. ARISA data evidenced considerable difference in structure existing between microbial communities in forest and agricultural soils. In a second study (Model II—“Anthropogenic Soil”), the bacterial community structures revealed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) differed among an Amazonian Dark Earth (ADE), black carbon (BC) and its adjacent non-anthropogenic oxisoil. The bacterial 16S rRNA gene (OTU) richness estimated by pyrosequencing was higher in ADE than BC. The most abundant bacterial phyla in ADE soils and BC were Proteobacteria—24% ADE, 15% BC; Acidobacteria—10% ADE, 21% BC; Actinobacteria—7% ADE, 12% BC; Verrucomicrobia, 8% ADE; 9% BC; Firmicutes—3% ADE, 8% BC. Overall, unclassified bacteria corresponded to 36% ADE, and 26% BC. Regardless of current land uses, our data suggest that soil microbial community structures may be strongly influenced by the historical soil management and that anthrosols in Amazonia, of anthropogenic origins, in addition to their capacity of enhancing crop yields, may also improve microbial diversity, with the support of the black carbon, which may sustain a particular and unique habitat for the microbes. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Transformation of Environment into Landscape: The Historical Ecology of Monumental Earthwork Construction in the Bolivian Amazon
Diversity 2010, 2(4), 618-652; doi:10.3390/d2040619
Received: 28 January 2010 / Revised: 14 April 2010 / Accepted: 15 April 2010 / Published: 19 April 2010
Cited by 27 | PDF Full-text (2699 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Although the Neotropics are recognized as a region rich in biological diversity, the origin, evolution, and maintenance of this phenomenon continues to be debated. Historical ecologists and landscape archaeologists point out that the Neotropics have a long, complex human history that may [...] Read more.
Although the Neotropics are recognized as a region rich in biological diversity, the origin, evolution, and maintenance of this phenomenon continues to be debated. Historical ecologists and landscape archaeologists point out that the Neotropics have a long, complex human history that may have been a key factor in the creation, shaping, and management of present day biodiversity. The construction of monumental earthworks referred to as ring ditches of the Bolivian Amazon and surrounding regions in late prehistory had considerable impact on the fauna, flora, soils, and topography of forest islands. Patterned landscape features, historical documents, energetics, and historical ecology are used to understand the transformation of forest islands into anthropogenic built environments. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Diversity of Bitter Manioc (Manihot Esculenta Crantz) Cultivation in a Whitewater Amazonian Landscape
Diversity 2010, 2(4), 586-609; doi:10.3390/d2040586
Received: 23 March 2010 / Revised: 9 April 2010 / Accepted: 13 April 2010 / Published: 16 April 2010
Cited by 8 | PDF Full-text (3275 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
While bitter manioc has been one of the most important staple crops in the central Amazon for thousands of years, there have been few studies of its cultivation in the fertile whitewater landscapes of this region. Anthropological research on bitter manioc cultivation [...] Read more.
While bitter manioc has been one of the most important staple crops in the central Amazon for thousands of years, there have been few studies of its cultivation in the fertile whitewater landscapes of this region. Anthropological research on bitter manioc cultivation in the Amazon has focused almost exclusively on long-fallow shifting cultivation in marginal upland areas of low soil fertility. This has contributed to the persistence of the oversimplified notion that because bitter manioc is well adapted to infertile upland soils; it cannot yield well in alluvial and/or fertile soils. I hypothesized that bitter manioc cultivation would be well adapted to the fertile soils of the whitewater landscapes of the central Amazon because of the centrality of this crop to subsistence in this region. In this article, I examine one such whitewater landscape, the middle Madeira River, Amazonas, Brazil, where smallholders cultivate bitter manioc on fertile Amazonian Dark Earths (ADE) and floodplain soils, and on infertile Oxisols and Ultisols. In this region, cultivation on fertile soils tends to be short-cycled, characterised by short fallowing (0–6 years) and shorter cropping periods (5–12 months) with a predominance of low starch fast maturing “weak” landraces. By contrast, cultivation on infertile soils is normally long-cycled, characterised by longer fallows (>10 years) and longer cropping periods (1–3 years) with a predominance of high starch slow maturing “strong” landraces. This diversity in bitter manioc cultivation systems (landraces, fallow periods, soils) demonstrates that Amazonian farmers have adapted bitter manioc cultivation to the specific characteristics of the landscapes that they inhabit. I conclude that contrary to earlier claims, there are no ecological limitations on growing bitter manioc in fertile soils, and therefore the cultivation of this crop in floodplain and ADE soils would have been possible in the pre-Columbian period. Full article
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Open AccessArticle The Amazonian Formative: Crop Domestication and Anthropogenic Soils
Diversity 2010, 2(4), 473-504; doi:10.3390/d2040473
Received: 29 January 2010 / Revised: 12 March 2010 / Accepted: 24 March 2010 / Published: 29 March 2010
Cited by 27 | PDF Full-text (1536 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The emergence of sedentism and agriculture in Amazonia continues to sit uncomfortably within accounts of South American pre-Columbian history. This is partially because deep-seated models were formulated when only ceramic evidence was known, partly because newer data continue to defy simple explanations, [...] Read more.
The emergence of sedentism and agriculture in Amazonia continues to sit uncomfortably within accounts of South American pre-Columbian history. This is partially because deep-seated models were formulated when only ceramic evidence was known, partly because newer data continue to defy simple explanations, and partially because many discussions continue to ignore evidence of pre-Columbian anthropogenic landscape transformations. This paper presents the results of recent geoarchaeological research on Amazonian anthropogenic soils. It advances the argument that properties of two different types of soils, terras pretas and terras mulatas, support their interpretation as correlates of, respectively, past settlement areas and fields where spatially-intensive, organic amendment-reliant cultivation took place. This assessment identifies anthropogenic soil formation as a hallmark of the Amazonian Formative and prompts questions about when similar forms of enrichment first appear in the Amazon basin. The paper reviews evidence for embryonic anthrosol formation to highlight its significance for understanding the domestication of a key Amazonian crop: manioc (Manihot esculenta ssp. esculenta). A model for manioc domestication that incorporates anthropogenic soils outlines some scenarios which link the distribution of its two broader varieties—sweet and bitter manioc—with the widespread appearance of Amazonian anthropogenic dark earths during the first millennium AD. Full article
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Open AccessArticle Pre-Columbian Earthworks in Coastal Amazonia
Diversity 2010, 2(3), 331-352; doi:10.3390/d2030331
Received: 4 December 2009 / Accepted: 28 January 2010 / Published: 2 March 2010
Cited by 11 | PDF Full-text (2755 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
As in other parts of Amazonia, pre-Columbian Indians have profoundly modified the coast of the Guianas. Between 650 and 1650 AD, Arauquinoid people occupied a territory that was approximately 600 km long and used the raised field technique intensively before the European [...] Read more.
As in other parts of Amazonia, pre-Columbian Indians have profoundly modified the coast of the Guianas. Between 650 and 1650 AD, Arauquinoid people occupied a territory that was approximately 600 km long and used the raised field technique intensively before the European conquest. They erected thousands of raised fields of various shapes, dug canals, ditches, and pathways, and built artificial mounds to establish their villages. All these earthworks changed forever the face of the coastal flooded savannas and their ecology. Such labor was probably organized under the leadership of a central authority: it seems that Arauquinoid societies were organized in a chiefdom system. Statistical calculations, based on the known surface area of raised fields and on their estimated productivity, suggest a population density of 50 to 100 inhabitants per km2. Pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Guianas coast carefully organized, managed and “anthropisized” their territory following a specific pattern. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Sound-Symbolic Expression of Animacy in Amazonian Ecuador
Diversity 2010, 2(3), 353-369; doi:10.3390/d2030353
Received: 15 December 2009 / Accepted: 25 February 2010 / Published: 2 March 2010
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (177 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Several anthropologists of Amazonian societies in Ecuador have claimed that for Achuar [1] and Quichua speaking Runa [2-4] there is no fundamental distinction between humans on the one hand, and plants and animals on the other. A related observation is that Runa [...] Read more.
Several anthropologists of Amazonian societies in Ecuador have claimed that for Achuar [1] and Quichua speaking Runa [2-4] there is no fundamental distinction between humans on the one hand, and plants and animals on the other. A related observation is that Runa and Achuar people share an animistic cosmology whereby animals, plants, and even seemingly inert entities such as rocks and stones are believed to have a life force or essence with a subjectivity that can be expressed. This paper will focus on Quichua speaking Runa to seek linguistic evidence for animacy by examining the sound-symbolic properties of a class of expressions called ideophones. I argue that structural features of ideophones such as canonical length and diversity of sound segments as well as type of sound segments, help express the animism of the Runa lifeworld. Moreover, although these features are not indicative of any essential distinctions between plants and animals, they may be indicative of a scalar view of animacy, along the lines suggested by Descola who first proposed a continuum or ‘ladder of animacy’ for the Achuar [1, pp. 321-326]. Ideophones, then, may be understood as one set of linguistic tools for coming to terms with the diversity of their ecological setting, a setting which spans highly animate humans and animals, through less animate plants, trees, and rocks. Full article
Open AccessArticle The Historical Ecology of Human and Wild Primate Malarias in the New World
Diversity 2010, 2(2), 256-280; doi:10.3390/d2020256
Received: 15 December 2009 / Accepted: 22 February 2010 / Published: 24 February 2010
Cited by 3 | PDF Full-text (284 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The origin and subsequent proliferation of malarias capable of infecting humans in South America remain unclear, particularly with respect to the role of Neotropical monkeys in the infectious chain. The evidence to date will be reviewed for Pre-Columbian human malaria, introduction with [...] Read more.
The origin and subsequent proliferation of malarias capable of infecting humans in South America remain unclear, particularly with respect to the role of Neotropical monkeys in the infectious chain. The evidence to date will be reviewed for Pre-Columbian human malaria, introduction with colonization, zoonotic transfer from cebid monkeys, and anthroponotic transfer to monkeys. Cultural behaviors (primate hunting and pet-keeping) and ecological changes favorable to proliferation of mosquito vectors are also addressed. Full article
Open AccessArticle Contingent Diversity on Anthropic Landscapes
Diversity 2010, 2(2), 163-181; doi:10.3390/d2020163
Received: 4 December 2009 / Accepted: 25 January 2010 / Published: 1 February 2010
Cited by 17 | PDF Full-text (553 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Behaviorally modern human beings have lived in Amazonia for thousands of years. Significant dynamics in species turnovers due to human-mediated disturbance were associated with the ultimate emergence and expansion of agrarian technologies in prehistory. Such disturbances initiated primary and secondary landscape transformations [...] Read more.
Behaviorally modern human beings have lived in Amazonia for thousands of years. Significant dynamics in species turnovers due to human-mediated disturbance were associated with the ultimate emergence and expansion of agrarian technologies in prehistory. Such disturbances initiated primary and secondary landscape transformations in various locales of the Amazon region. Diversity in these locales can be understood by accepting the initial premise of contingency, expressed as unprecedented human agency and human history. These effects can be accessed through the archaeological record and in the study of living languages. In addition, landscape transformation can be demonstrated in the study of traditional knowledge (TK). One way of elucidating TK distinctions between anthropic and nonanthropic landscapes concerns elicitation of differential labeling of these landscapes and more significantly, elicitation of the specific contents, such as trees, occurring in these landscapes. Freelisting is a method which can be used to distinguish the differential species compositions of landscapes resulting from human-mediated disturbance vs. those which do not evince records of human agency and history. The TK of the Ka’apor Indians of Amazonian Brazil as revealed in freelisting exercises shows differentiation of anthropogenic from high forests as well as a recognition of diversity in the anthropogenic forests. This suggests that the agents of human-mediated disturbance and landscape transformation in traditional Amazonia encode diversity and contingency into their TK, which encoding reflects past cultural influence on landscape and society over time. Full article
Open AccessArticle Long-Term Human Induced Impacts on Marajó Island Landscapes, Amazon Estuary
Diversity 2010, 2(2), 182-206; doi:10.3390/d2020182
Received: 4 December 2009 / Accepted: 25 January 2010 / Published: 1 February 2010
Cited by 7 | PDF Full-text (592 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Archaeology is a discipline that can offer a long term perspective on the impacts human societies have had on the environment. Landscape studies are critical for understanding these impacts, because they embrace a dialectical view regarding the relationship between humans and their [...] Read more.
Archaeology is a discipline that can offer a long term perspective on the impacts human societies have had on the environment. Landscape studies are critical for understanding these impacts, because they embrace a dialectical view regarding the relationship between humans and their immediate surroundings. Such studies are well suited to the Amazon basin, a region that has driven much media attention due to astonishing rates of deforestation in certain areas, with likely consequences on the planet’s climate, posing challenges to the survival of the human species for the coming decades. In fact, although much has been said about the impacts of contemporary societies on tropical forest environments, ancient landscape management practices have not yet been considered part of the equation. Thus far, we know that Amerindian societies have been actively transforming their surroundings for millennia. On the eve of European contact, large, complex societies were bringing about long-lasting transformations of landscapes throughout the basin. Conquest and colonization resulted in epidemics, enslavement, and changes to the indigenous economies that managed to survive the genocide. Afterwards, as colonizers would exploit traditional resources leading, in many instances, to their exhaustion, a huge quantity of information on sustainable ways of dealing with certain environments became lost. Traditional knowledge, however, still survives among certain indigenous, peasant (caboclo), and African-Brazilian populations. Documentation of surviving management practices together with the study of the archaeological record could provide valuable information for policy makers. This article examines historical transformations that took place on Marajó Island during the last two millennia and advocates the importance of archaeological research for understanding the historical ecology of landscape change. It is argued that ancient economic strategies, some still being practiced today, could be re-created in the present, since these may constitute opportunities for sustainable sources of income to local communities. Full article
Open AccessArticle Biocultural Diversity in the Southern Amazon
Diversity 2010, 2(1), 1-16; doi:10.3390/d2010001
Received: 18 November 2009 / Accepted: 18 December 2009 / Published: 24 December 2009
Cited by 4 | PDF Full-text (706 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Recent studies in Amazonia historical ecology have revealed substantial diversity and dynamic change in coupled natural human systems. In the southern Amazon, several headwater basins show evidence of substantial pre-Columbian landscape modification, particularly in areas historically dominated by speakers of the Arawak [...] Read more.
Recent studies in Amazonia historical ecology have revealed substantial diversity and dynamic change in coupled natural human systems. In the southern Amazon, several headwater basins show evidence of substantial pre-Columbian landscape modification, particularly in areas historically dominated by speakers of the Arawak language family. The headwater basin of the Xingu River, the easternmost of these areas occupied by Arawak-speaking peoples, has revealed such a complex built environment. This discussion examines settlement pattern and land-use, which have implications for understanding the dynamics of natural-human systems in the Upper Xingu basin and other areas across the transitional forests of the southern Amazon. Full article
Open AccessArticle Adventive Vertebrates and Historical Ecology in the Pre-Columbian Neotropics
Diversity 2009, 1(2), 151-165; doi:10.3390/d1020151
Received: 14 October 2009 / Accepted: 4 December 2009 / Published: 8 December 2009
Cited by 9 | PDF Full-text (312 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
The arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere (ca. AD 1500) is generally used as a convenient reference point for signaling the early appearance of invasive faunas. Although use of this date embraces an implicit belief in benign landscape management by pre-Columbian [...] Read more.
The arrival of Europeans in the Western Hemisphere (ca. AD 1500) is generally used as a convenient reference point for signaling the early appearance of invasive faunas. Although use of this date embraces an implicit belief in benign landscape management by pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Americas, substantial evidence for the anthropogenic movement of domesticated, wild, and synanthropic vertebrates throughout the Neotropics suggests that it may be an exaggerated and erroneous reference point for the aims of ecological restoration and biological conservation. Full article

Review

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Open AccessReview Origin and Domestication of Native Amazonian Crops
Diversity 2010, 2(1), 72-106; doi:10.3390/d2010072
Received: 9 November 2009 / Accepted: 31 December 2009 / Published: 6 January 2010
Cited by 73 | PDF Full-text (678 KB) | HTML Full-text | XML Full-text
Abstract
Molecular analyses are providing new elements to decipher the origin, domestication and dispersal of native Amazonian crops in an expanding archaeological context. Solid molecular data are available for manioc (Manihot esculenta), cacao (Theobroma cacao), pineapple (Ananas comosus [...] Read more.
Molecular analyses are providing new elements to decipher the origin, domestication and dispersal of native Amazonian crops in an expanding archaeological context. Solid molecular data are available for manioc (Manihot esculenta), cacao (Theobroma cacao), pineapple (Ananas comosus), peach palm (Bactris gasipaes) and guaraná (Paullinia cupana), while hot peppers (Capsicum spp.), inga (Inga edulis), Brazil nut (Bertholletia excelsa) and cupuassu (Theobroma grandiflorum) are being studied. Emergent patterns include the relationships among domestication, antiquity (terminal Pleistocene to early Holocene), origin in the periphery, ample pre-Columbian dispersal and clear phylogeographic population structure for manioc, pineapple, peach palm and, perhaps, Capsicum peppers. Cacao represents the special case of an Amazonian species possibly brought into domestication in Mesoamerica, but close scrutiny of molecular data suggests that it may also have some incipiently domesticated populations in Amazonia. Another pattern includes the relationships among species with incipiently domesticated populations or very recently domesticated populations, rapid pre- or post-conquest dispersal and lack of phylogeographic population structure, e.g., Brazil nut, cupuassu and guaraná. These patterns contrast the peripheral origin of most species with domesticated populations with the subsequent concentration of their genetic resources in the center of the basin, along the major white water rivers where high pre-conquest population densities developed. Additional molecular genetic analyses on these and other species will allow better examination of these processes and will enable us to relate them to other historical ecological patterns in Amazonia. Full article
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