Holocene climate change and the domestication of SW Amazonia

Oxford Centre for Tropical Forests seminar followed by drinks – all welcome

Southwest Amazonia has long been recognised for its remarkable habitat (beta) diversity – rainforest, dry forest, cerrado savannas and savanna wetlands – reflecting a strong precipitation gradient and complex geomorphology. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that it was also home to diverse, populous and complex pre-Columbian (pre-AD1492) societies which domesticated their landscapes through large-scale earthwork engineering projects. This raises the contentious question of whether SW Amazonian ecosystems are largely pristine, as assumed by most ecologists, or instead contain a strong legacy of millennia of human disturbance. In his talk, Prof Mayle draws upon palaeoecological, archaeological, and palaeoclimatic evidence to examine the extent to which these ancient societies domesticated SW Amazonia in the context of Holocene climate change. He concludes with some thoughts on the potential relevance of this historical perspective for both conservation policy and understanding recent plot-scale ecological changes.

Prof Frank Mayle is a tropical palaeoecologist specialising in fossil pollen analysis of lake sediments. Much of his academic career has focused on understanding the response of Bolivian ecotonal tropical forests to late Quaternary climate change. However, in recent years he has worked closely with archaeologists to explore the nature of human-climate-ecosystem relationships across tropical South America through the Holocene.