Research Article

Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition

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Science  03 Mar 2017:
Vol. 355, Issue 6328, pp. 925-931
DOI: 10.1126/science.aal0157

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Past human influences on Amazonian forest

The marks of prehistoric human societies on tropical forests can still be detected today. Levis et al. performed a basin-wide comparison of plant distributions, archaeological sites, and environmental data. Plants domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples are much more likely to be dominant in Amazonian forests than other species. Furthermore, forests close to archaeological sites often have a higher abundance and richness of domesticated species. Thus, modern-day Amazonian tree communities across the basin remain largely structured by historical human use.

Science, this issue p. 925

Abstract

The extent to which pre-Columbian societies altered Amazonian landscapes is hotly debated. We performed a basin-wide analysis of pre-Columbian impacts on Amazonian forests by overlaying known archaeological sites in Amazonia with the distributions and abundances of 85 woody species domesticated by pre-Columbian peoples. Domesticated species are five times more likely than nondomesticated species to be hyperdominant. Across the basin, the relative abundance and richness of domesticated species increase in forests on and around archaeological sites. In southwestern and eastern Amazonia, distance to archaeological sites strongly influences the relative abundance and richness of domesticated species. Our analyses indicate that modern tree communities in Amazonia are structured to an important extent by a long history of plant domestication by Amazonian peoples.

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