Time and complexity in historical ecology studies in the neotropical lowlands. based on a symposium held in new orleans, louisiana, october 2002. historical ecology series. edited by william l balé
Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands. Based on a
symposium held in New Orleans, Louisiana, October 2002. Historical Ecology Series. Edited by
William L Balée and Clark L Erickson.
Author(s): Emilio F Moran
Source: The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 82, No. 2, Contents (June 2007), p. 171
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/519634 .
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Quarterly Review of Biology.
June 2007 171NEW BIOLOGICAL BOOKS
throughout the country. As a professional forester,
researcher, and frequent visitor to the national for-
ests in Minnesota, I found the sections on those
forests to be interesting, accurate, and informative.
Howard M Hoganson, Forest Resources and North
Central Research & Outreach Center, University of
Minnesota, Grand Rapids, Minnesota
Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology:
Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands. Based on
a symposium held in New Orleans, Louisiana, October
2002. Historical Ecology Series.
Edited by William L Bale´e and Clark L Erickson. New
York: Columbia University Press. $80.00. xiv ם 417
p; ill.; index. ISBN: 0-231-13562-9 (hc); 0-231-
50961-8 (e-book). 2006.
This volume is the result of a symposium that was
held in 2002. It includes 12 chapters that cover
human-environment interactions in the New
World Tropics—in particular, Mesoamerica, the
Ecuadorian Andes, the desert coast of Peru, north-
ern South America east of the Andes, and various
regions in the Amazon Basin. Papers include those
with a backward glance to prehistoric dynamics,
and some look at contemporary populations.
The editors try very hard to argue that what they
are proposing (i.e., historical ecology) is a new re-
search program, distinct from previous approaches.
They suggest that their strategy is different from that
of landscape ecology because they focus on how hu-
man beings bring about changes in landscapes.
They take a very strong position that there are no
pristine environments but, rather, as soon as hu-
mans enter into an environment, they make it into
a human landscape, modiﬁed by human actions for
human objectives. They argue strongly that human
beings do not adapt to the physical conditions of
the environment by modifying their population size
and settlement size to initial environmental condi-
tions. Rather, they propose that humans transform
those constraints into negligible analytical phenom-
ena through their modiﬁcation of soils, drainage,
cropping practices, and so on.
Readers will ﬁnd some very ﬁne papers in this
collection from an empirical perspective, and very
good historical reconstructions (Neves and Peter-
sen; Heckenberger), as well as interesting discus-
sion of how local populations create diversity
(Brondı´zio)—a central argument of the contribu-
tors to this volume. However, others may ﬁnd the
three chapters in this volume (authored by the ed-
itors) a bit tedious and largely unwarranted be-
cause of their constant arguing for the irrelevance
of other approaches and the superiority of histori-
cal ecology as a research program. Few readers
would quarrel with the importance of ecological
studies becoming increasingly historical or that re-
search needs to incorporate human agency in its
analytical considerations. For example, we have al-
ready begun to see the detailed historical exami-
nation of land use at what later became Harvard
Forest by Foster and Aber. Long-Term Ecological
Research stations (LTERs) have begun to recon-
struct the prebiological station land uses to better
understand the factors that may have led to the
vegetations studied since the creation of the LTERs
in the 1970s. The editors dismiss cultural ecology,
ecosystem ecology, adaptationist approaches, and
systems ecology because they “ultimately . . . deny
human agency” (p 4) in positively changing the
environment over time. Although there are au-
thors who surely do so, there is plenty of work using
these approaches that does talk about the transfor-
mative power of humans (e.g., P M Vitousek et al.
1997. Science 277(5325):494–499; E F Moran and E
Ostrom. 2005. Seeing the Forest and the Trees: Human-
Environment Interactions in Forest Ecosystems. Cam-
bridge (MA): MIT Press). In short, the editors have
created a cluster of “straw men” that they can treat
dismissively, to highlight the uniqueness of their
proposed research program. This was unnecessary,
as there is evident merit in an approach that dis-
cusses human-environment interactions over time
and space. Few environmental anthropologists, ge-
ographers, or ecologists would quarrel with this
program. Most of us embrace and, indeed, practice
it already—and it would be more productive to ﬁnd
ways to deﬁne the goals of the different approaches
that surely vary and explain why we need more
than one research program to understand human-
This collection is a welcome addition to the
growing number of studies that examine human-
environment interactions. Its focus on prehistory
and on how people have transformed plants, drain-
age, soils, and animals to achieve their goals com-
plements existing studies with a more contempo-
rary focus, and with different emphases.
Emilio F Moran, Anthropology and School for Pub-
lic & Environmental Affairs, Indiana University,
Plants on Islands: Diversity and Dynamics on
a Continental Archipelago.
By Martin L Cody. Berkeley (California): University of
California Press. $49.95. x ם 259 p ם 25 pl; ill.;
index. ISBN: 0-520-24729-9. 2006.
From the 25 beautiful plates tucked into the center
of this slim volume, I can imagine the more than
20 years of fun Martin Cody had in “zodiacking”
around the countless beautiful islands in Barkley
Sound of southwestern Vancouver Island. But
Cody has “paid his dues” by summarizing the re-