Bush, M.B., Rozas-Davila, A., Raczka, M., Nascimento, M., Valencia, B., Sales, R.K., McMichael, C.N.H. & Gosling, W.D. (2022) A palaeoecological perspective on the transformation of the tropical Andes by early human activity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 377, 20200497. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2020.0497
Valencia Castillo, B.G. (2014) From glacial to modern conditions: Vegetation and climate change under human influence in the Central Andes. PhD Thesis, Department of Environment, Earth & Ecosystems, The Open University.
Conservation, restoration and management strategies are employed to maintain Earth’s biological diversity and physical environment to a near “natural” state. However, the concept of “natural” is generally inexact and may include degraded landscapes. In absence of long-term empirical data of natural baselines, impacted assemblages (human altered baselines) could be falsely assumed to be natural and set as conservation or restoration goals. Therefore, the identification of long-term ecological baselines becomes a pressing requirement especially in threatened biodiversity hotspots such as the tropical Andes that were under human pressure for several millennial.
This thesis aims to identify ecological baselines for tropical Andean ecosystems based on multi-proxy palaeoecological reconstructions from three Andean lakes. Trends of vegetation change are used to identify when landscapes became anthropogenic in the Andes. Because vegetation assemblages at c. 10 ka experienced negligible anthropogenic impacts and had modern-like climate condition, this time was considered the most recent period likely to provide insight into natural ecological baseline conditions.
Changes in vegetation assemblages were evaluated over time departing from 10 ka around Miski and Huamanmarca, two sites that remained virtually impervious to human impacts. Baselines in Miski and Huamanmarca drifted continuously over time and showed that baselines are dynamic entities. The vegetation assemblages derived from Miski and Huamanmarca suggest that that human impact was not homogeneous throughout the Andean landscape.
Once baselines were defined it was possible to evaluate if the spatial distribution of Andean woodlands represented by Polylepis was a product of human impacts. A MaxEnt model generated based on 22 modern environmental variables and 13 palaeoecological vegetation reconstructions showed that Polylepis woodlands were naturally fragmented before humans arrived in South America (14 ka). However, the influence of humans during the mid and late Holocene enhanced the patchiness of the forest generating a hyper-fragmented landscape.
Extracting data from tropical pollen records can be difficult, and time consuming, because of the high floristic diversity. Ecology of the past contributor and PhD researcher Bryan Valencia has developed a method for turning your computer into a tally counter. Bryan’s method allows the easy recording of diverse assemblages, and saves time on data entry. The tally counter can be used to count whatever you like…
I whish I could start with “ Once upon a time…” because that would be the easiest way to begin this paragraph (or a paper). Besides, to some extend, “Once upon a time” can be appropriate because this is a story related to the OLD friends of the Paddington Bear. By that, I mean a story about the mega fauna in South America.
Macrauchenia drawn by Kobrina Olga (Photo credit: Wikipedia)