Ancient Humans Influenced Plant Distribution In Amazon Rainforest

3 March 2017, 7:17 am EST By Erin Schroeder Tech Times
Ancient indigenous people are believed to have shaped the Amazon rainforest's landscape. Thousands of years ago, people living in that area changed the forest due to hunger for fruits and nuts, which is reflected in the present scenario.  ( Mario Tama | Getty )

The Amazon rainforest is among the world's richest biological reservoirs consisting of wide range of flora and fauna.

Latest study suggests that the ancient humans did cultivation and plantation in some parts of the huge rainforest, which has shaped the Amazon landscape in some way. The tree species domesticated by the ancient humans are still dominating the large regions of the rainforest.

Researchers believe that several tree species populating the Amazon region were cultivated by ancient people more than five centuries before Europeans came and settled down. The ancient ones mainly cultivated the Brazil nut, cacao, rubber, acai palm, cashew, caimito and tucuma palm.

Study Of The Plantations

Carolina Levis, lead author of the study and also a palaeoecologist at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, along with her team conducted the study. During the research, the team used data shared by Amazon Tree Diversity Network to examine the biodiversity in the rainforest.

The Network had previously identified 4,962 palm and tree species in the rainforest. The team observed 85 domesticated woody species, out of which Levis discovered that around 20 of them were over-represented. These species consisted mostly of Brazil nuts and cocoa plants.

The researchers were curious of the influence factor that had led to this growth. Two possible factors that were considered by the researchers were human influence or environmental conditions.

Consequently, the research team used data on the domesticated species and compared it to more than 3,000 identified archaeological sites belonging to the pre-Columbian era and probable settlement sites like river banks.

Findings Of The Study

The findings highlight the organized relationship between the ecology of the environment and the ancient humans. The study reveals that around 85 tree species were used by Amazonian people for fruit, nuts and other building purposes over the past 8000 years. These species dominated the mature Amazon forests as compared to the undomesticated species.

The study also revealed that 20 percent of the plantation distribution in the rainforests was determined by human influences. On the other hand, 30 percent was likely affected by several environmental factors one of which could be soil composition.

Nevertheless, human activities influenced 30 percent of the plant distribution in the area which was largely inhabited by pre-Columbian populations which is the southwestern Amazon. Here, the environmental conditions did not affect much of the plantation, counting to just 10 percent.

Amazon Rainforest: Preservation

Levis suggested that these ecosystems need to be treasured and preserved, since they are under major threat from deforestation. Various deforestation actions are haunting the rainforest for the production of lumber or for making way for plantations of exotic crops like soybeans.

Conclusively, Levis noted that the Amazon is not an untamed forest, rather it is an ecosystem inhabited by humans for ages. The actions of populating humans have left several marks on the Amazon land.

The findings of the research have been published in the journal Science

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