Accepted Paper:

Wetlands, Sugar, and Archaeological Remote Sensing: Understanding the legacy effects of archaeological land use on modern Andean vegetation and environmental function  


Benjamin Vining (Wellesley College)

Paper short abstract:

Remote sensing archaeology reveals ancient land use structures vegetation dynamics in two regions of Peru. Both cases show the importance of understanding socio-ecological legacies to mitigate environmental change.

Paper long abstract:

Western concepts of nature contrast pristine environments with human impacts. However, land use sustained over millennia contributes to anthropogenic ecological networks, which can be characterized by human-vegetation interdependencies. Apparently "pristine" ecologies are illusory. This is perhaps particularly true in the neotropics, where human impacts are often subtle, cultural strategies may be tightly intertwined with the development of vegetation assemblages, and there is a general lack of familiarity with the complex ecological dynamics of these regions.

I compare two cases from the tropical Andean region of human - vegetation interactions with deep archaeological histories. These are anthropogenic bofedal wetlands of the high-altitude Andean plateau, and the influence of human-modified soils (anthrosols) on vegetation on Peru's north coast. Multispectral satellite imaging reveals subtle human impacts on vegetation phenology, which are not otherwise detectable. Archaeological and palaeoenvironmental data indicate these anthropogenic changes are linked to land use legacies from as early as 5 kyr BP. These legacies continue to influence environmental function and have divergent impacts on vegetation health.

In bofedales, human intervention enhances wetland health, helping to sustain moisture. Anthropogenic wetlands mitigated past adverse climates and help ensure modern water security in this arid region. North coast anthrosols, on the other hand, alternately accelerate or impede the growth stages in industrial sugarcane plantations, causing economic losses. Recognizing the impacts of past indigenous land use on modern vegetation is critical to conserving contemporary ecological function, as well as for addressing the challenges of global environmental changes.

Panel P31
Indigenous populations-vegetation-climate relationship in the past: what can this teach us about sustainable vegetation use in the present?