The Amazon rainforest is huge. It covers about 5.500.000 square kilometers and makes up more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests. Researchers estimate that there are about 390 billion trees spread out over the forest – an enormous number and yet, the jungle is at risk. The unusual drought these last years makes the area more vulnerable to wildfires and as if that weren’t enough, deforestation is on the rise. 2020 even was the worst year in terms of logging since 2008, with around 10.900 square kilometers of forest disappearing. Safe to say, we’re not doing great.
Such numbers and such dangerous tendencies ask for some research and that’s exactly what scientists worldwide have been doing. How can we stop deforestation? How can we restore the rainforest? How can we learn from the past? These are only some of the questions being studied in search of a solution.
As a lot of the problem has to do with the growing population worldwide, one question, in particular, has come up during the past few years. The Amazon rainforest has been inhabited for over 5.000 years, so what’s been the impact of those native people on the environment? Well, not much, new research from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute demonstrates.
To me, these findings don’t say that the Indigenous population wasn’t using the forest, just that they used it sustainably and didn’t modify its species composition very muchDolores Piperno, researcher at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
In order to come to that conclusion, scientists took soil samples from three remote spots in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest. Every layer was analyzed for microfossils like tiny pieces of plants and charcoal and that way, the researchers could trace back the history of that particular piece of land to over 5.000 years ago. Proving the native people living in the Amazon forest never changed the biotope through logging, intensive agriculture, or any other form of land use.
Lead researcher Dolores Piperno from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute emphasizes that the native people living in the Amazon have most certainly had some kind of influence on the landscape they were living in. However, their activities were concentrated on the fertile pieces of land very close to the river bank. “To me, these findings don’t say that the Indigenous population wasn’t using the forest, just that they used it sustainably and didn’t modify its species composition very much,” Piperno said. “We saw no decreases in plant diversity over the time period we studied. This is a place where humans appear to have been a positive force on this landscape and its biodiversity over thousands of years.”