Anthropogenically driven decline and extinction of Sapotaceae on Nuku Hiva (Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia)

Author(s): Jennifer Huebert

Year: 2015


The native forests of the central and eastern Pacific Islands were extensively modified by Polynesian settlers, but our understanding of these processes are generalised. In the first large study of anthropogenic forest change in the Marquesas Islands, the identification of two members of the Sapotaceae family in archaeological charcoal assemblages was notable. Plants from this taxonomic group are poorly represented in Eastern Polynesia today, and the findings of Planchonella and another species (cf. Sideroxylon) indicate the geographical distribution of trees in this family was once more extensive than it is today. They further suggest that some Sapotaceae may have been common elements of the indigenous lowland forests of the eastern Polynesian high islands. Both taxa were found in early cultural contexts at sites in three valleys, and decline to almost undetectable levels by the late prehistoric period. These declines could be attributed to habitat destruction, overexploitation of the wood, and seed predation by introduced rats. Other data suggests links with reductions in native frugiverous bird populations should also be explored. This study has informed on a group of plants that are not well-represented in pollen spectra in the region, and highlight the usefulness of archaeobotanical data in studying palaeoecological processes.

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Cite this Record

Anthropogenically driven decline and extinction of Sapotaceae on Nuku Hiva (Marquesas Islands, East Polynesia). Jennifer Huebert. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 397761) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8T72JPT

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Investigation Types
Bioarchaeological Research

archaeobotany human palaeoecology Polynesia

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: 111.973; min lat: -52.052 ; max long: -87.715; max lat: 53.331 ;

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