Anthropology

A Rainforest's Recovery

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Science  11 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5984, pp. 1329
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5984.1329-b

The Mayan civilization thrived in Mesoamerica (a region now encompassing Mexico, Honduras, and Guatamala), developing a written language, art, and urban centers. The Mayans also cleared large areas of the rainforest for agriculture. Their civilization waned around 1000 CE; the population collapsed and urban and agricultural areas were abandoned. Mueller et al. document this collapse and the rapid recovery of the rainforest afterward through a sediment and pollen record from Lake Petén Itzá, in the lowlands of Central America. The record shows that the lake received extensive clay and relatively little pollen up to perhaps as late as 1160 CE, indicating that the forest and shores were open. Thus, either the lake still attracted farming and migrants after the main regional collapse, as the archaeological record suggests, or there was otherwise a brief lag in forest recovery. In any case, the pollen record shows that forest became widespread soon afterward, perhaps as quickly as 80 years after the main collapse.

CREDIT: THINKSTOCK

Geology 38, 523 (2010).

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