According to a new study, published this Thursday in the journal Science, many of the forests, gardens, and landscapes of the Amazon in South America were shaped by human hand, as ancient indigenous populations that lived in the zone affected considerably what the nature looks like.
For more than 20 years, scientific groups across the world have tried to define how the American continent looked like before the arrival of the European in the XV century. Now, a research team composed of more than 40 authors has determined that many of the known landscapes present in the Amazon are the product of the human influence, as structured networks of towns and cities made by the indigenous defined how the nature is in the present.
The Amazon rainforest is one of the most unexplored zones of the world, as it has over 5.5 million of square kilometers of area and possesses the more extensive biodiversity known to humankind. The research team stated that they were amazed at finding out that the human fingerprint is one of the reasons that defined the shape of one of the most spectacular natural sceneries in the world.
How can the human influence affect so much a landscape?
Indigenous communities lived in the Amazon rainforest for over 8,000 years, and in that time, they were able to construct specialized agriculture mechanisms as well as developing enhanced living habitats in the forest itself. In that process, they identified which trees and vegetation, in general, were the most profitable for their interests. They prioritized mainly two types of crops, which are the cocoa bean and the Brazilian nut.
They were able to create large crop fields that were near to the before mentioned town networks and therefore generate better conditions for the people in those populations. Even when many of these communities have disappeared over the years, the works the did in the world largest rainforest still can be observed.
“People arrived in the Amazon at least 10,000 years ago, and they started to use the species that were there. And more than 8,000 years ago, they selected some individuals with specific phenotypes that are useful for humans,” said Carolina Levis, a scholar at Wageningen University who was a co-author of the study. “They really cultivated and planted these species in their home gardens, in the forests they were managing.”
According to Levis, these cultivation processes altered entire areas of the Amazon rainforest in many ways. The research team explains that even to these days, some of the species that were prioritized by ancient indigenous are still dominating some swaths of the forest, mainly Brazil nuts and cocoa trees fields located in the southwest section of the Amazon basin.
José Iriarte, an archeologist at the University of Exeter, says that the most recent investigations from the last 20 years have shown how these indigenous communities were more complex and numerous than it was thought, as the impact they had in the ecosystem was considerable. Iriarte, who did not participate in the study, stated that the investigation presented last Thursday is, by far, “the largest and more comprehensive study” presented in this matter.
Source: The Atlantic