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Ecological legacies of pre-Columbian raised fields and their implications for agroecosystems today

Author(s): Delphine Renard ; Doyle McKey ; Anne Zangerle

Year: 2015

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Summary

Some South American lowland environments bear impressive legacies of pre-Columbian agriculture: vestiges of raised fields that have persisted since their abandonment centuries or millennia ago. In an interdisciplinary approach, we aim at understanding how the construction and use of raised fields in the past influence the functioning of these ecosystems today.

In a raised-field landscape in a seasonally flooded coastal savanna of French Guiana, we characterized the distribution of soil macroinvertebrates (ants, termites, earthworms) and plant roots within the landscape and quantified their influence on soil physical properties. Our results showed that landscape modification by pre-Columbian farmers has long-lasting effects on the distribution of soil organisms in this wetland. Since their abandonment, and perhaps before, raised fields have attracted a diverse and abundant community of soil engineers that enhance the stability of mound soils, allowing their maintenance against erosion.

We compare similarities and differences in the ecological functioning of ancient raised fields in this study site with those in the Beni savannas of Bolivia, where raised fields have a different history and show very different spatial organization in the landscape.

Finally, we examine the applications of our results in the framework of ecological engineering to conceptualize new durable agroecosystems.

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Ecological legacies of pre-Columbian raised fields and their implications for agroecosystems today. Delphine Renard, Anne Zangerle, Doyle McKey. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396170)


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Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America