Tropical forests as key sites of the “Anthropocene�: Past and present perspectives

Patrick Roberts, Rebecca Hamilton, Dolores R Piperno

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Tropical forests are on the front line of climate change and human sustainability challenges, being key environments in discussions of the “Anthropocene” and some of the most threatened land-based habitats on the face of the Earth. However, while it has been acknowledged that 21st-century anthropogenic alterations to tropical forests have the potential to set off major earth systems feedbacks on regional to global scales, there has been less discussion on how past human activities may have had similar impacts. Indeed, difficult working conditions, poor preservation, and environmental determinism have traditionally led to these habitats being framed as “blanks” on the map of human history. In this Special Feature, we draw on multidisciplinary contributions from archaeology, history, paleoecology, climate science, and Indigenous traditional knowledge to explore our species’ interaction with tropical forests across space and through time. The contributions highlight that human societies have not only occupied and utilized these habitats over the long-term, but that they, in many cases, have also actively impacted them. This has often had persistent ramifications for local flora and fauna composition and biology, levels of biodiversity, landscape structure, and regional climate both before and after the industrial era. These deep-time perspectives provide insights for the development of more effective and just management practices in the present and future: ones that take into account the long and shifting cultural histories of these critical environments.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)7
    JournalPNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Issue number40
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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