Human influence on tropics predates Anthropocene, holds clues to current crisis

Human influence on tropics predates Anthropocene, holds clues to current crisis

Ostrich-shaped but elephant-sized, a species known as the elephant bird once roamed Madagascar’s tropical forests. But close to a thousand years ago, these giant birds slipped into extinction. Now all that remains of elephant birds are their fossilized skeletons and shards of their hard-shelled eggs. While experts are still debating the exact reason for their disappearance, humans most likely played a role. The disappearance of elephant birds in Madagascar is just one example of how humans modified the composition of tropical forests well before the advent of the so-called Anthropocene, the proposed epoch defined by human modification such as large-scale land clearing, pollution, and biodiversity loss. Generally, the tropics tend to be overlooked as sites of human activity, say the editors of a recently published volume in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Instead, these regions tend to be viewed as “blanks” on the map, partly because the tropics have previously been viewed as inhospitable places for human beings. The nine studies in the volume challenge this view by showing that humans not only lived in tropical habitats, but used their resources — and as a result, humanity had a substantial impact on tropical biodiversity, landscape structure, and even climate. The studies also challenge the concept of the Anthropocene, which has become popular yet controversial. Patrick Roberts, an archaeologist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany and lead editor of the volume, says that looking at the wide breadth of history of…This article was originally published on Mongabay

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