How much did indigenous peoples alter the Amazon forest?

Mitchell Power and his fellow collaborators studied the question of whether pre-historic people clearcut the rainforest from the viewpoint of ecologists.  Their conclusion is that before Europeans arrived, indigenous peoples did alter the Amazon forest--but primarily along major rivers.  Their effects were almost imperceptible in rainforest areas more than a day's walk from a river, according to new research published in the Journal of Biogeography.

This team of international scientists argue that a recent emphasis by researchers on Amazonia as a manufactured landscape overstates the facts.  This study has "reversed a decades-long trend of finding an ever-increasing extent and ecological effects of human settlement in pre-Columbian Amazonia," says George Malanson, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the research.

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NSF Amazon
Researcher Jake Schiferl uses a soil augur
to extract samples from the flood-plain
forest of Peru.

Credit: Mark Bush