Pre-Columbian Farming Helped Increase Amazon Biodiversity

leaf cutter ant photo

photo: David Dennis via flickr.

New research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that pre-Columbian agricultural activity in the Amazon, in what is now French Guiana, inadvertently helped increased biodiversity. Though it's tempting to try to frame this is "see modern agricultural techniques are bad," that's not what this is about. It's just more complicated than that.New Scientist quotes Doyle McKey of the University of Montpellier 2 in France: "Human actions cannot always be characterized as bad for biodiversity. Some might be good."

Raised Beds Help Water Drain, Animals Colonize
Backing that up is McKey's research into the savannahs of French Guiana, which flood during the rainy season and are dry in the summer. Examining unusual foot-tall mounds in the terrain, he determined that they were former crop beds. Raised high enough to help them drain during the wet season.

Now these fields were abandoned half a millennia ago and were colonized by various plant and animal species, some of which even helped the mounds grow bigger through their activities. This, along with the superior draining of the mounds, helped them from being eroded every year.

All of this leads McKey to assert that these alterations have helped increase biodiversity as, "It's clear that a savannah with this heterogeneity will have a higher biodiversity than flat savannah."

Not only that, but it also raises the question of what is actually an unaltered, natural landscape. Is there ever such a thing? It strikes the heart of what we call wilderness and humanity's place in a landscape.

Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

More on Amazonia:
'Amazongate' is More Sloppy Writing Than Sloppy Science
Amazon Will Be Drier Because of Global Warming, But Won't Turn to Savannah
Strange Petroglyphs Discovered Beneath Clearcut Amazon

Related Content on