Anthrosols and Cultural Landscapes

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Marcus Lindholm:

"Through such local modes of common self-regulation, new kinds of ecosystems emerged, now known as cultural landscapes (Taylor, 2012). In Europe these landscapes consisted of mosaics of pasture, arable land, and settlements, mixed up with ditches, mires, ponds, rocky hills and tree groves. Lacking modern technology, the reworking of the environment was shallow, with minor impact on bedrock and waterways. The result was a heterogenization of landscape features which substantially increased local biodiversity (Suchantke, 1993; Vos & Meekes, 1999). Large parts of eastern Asia are dominated by cultural landscapes, now partly populated by species that solely occur in these environments (gingko, rock dove). Other regions have been extensively cultivated by means of terraced wetlands for rice, taro, and other crops, in close interaction with aquatic and semiaquatic flora and fauna elements (Bhattacharya, 2014). Large areas of the semi-arid Irano-Anatolian region was altered into open oak-grassland cultural landscapes already during early Holocene (Asouti & Kabukcu, 2014). In the high Andes, pre-Colombian cultural landscapes dominated large areas, and substantial parts of the Amazon rain forests are old cultural landscapes, as well (Heckenberger et al., 2007; Solomon et al., 2007), as confirmed by the widespread occurrence of manmade black soil (terra preta). The Maya culture, which persisted through millennia, rested on an intriguing system of agriculture and forestry, making up complex cultural landscapes from wetlands to alpine zones (Beach et al., 2019). African woodlands are partly afforested cultural landscapes, as well (Fairhead & Leach, 1996), and aborigines of Australia controlled bush fires to promote certain grasses and edible plants along their trails, altering game densities and reshaping vegetation patterns (Silock, 2018). Even presently, loss of diversity is shown to be lower in areas managed by traditional cultures (IPBES report, 2019).The term 'ecological footprint' gained new meaning as premodern cultures created a broad range of man-made soil types, anthrosols. Enriched by manure, charcoal, ashes, and compost, anthrosols still dominate substantial areas of the Eastern and Western Palearctic and tropical Nearctic, partly reaching back to early Holocene (Gong et al., 1999; Lehmann et al., 2003). The soil in which we presently put our ecological footprints, are by large created by our own ancestors. These man-landscape interfaces enhanced local biodiversity and habitat heterogeneity. Half of the flowering plants of northern Europe are introduced from southern latitudes by man or gained increased distribution due to human culture – among them many herbs now ubiquitous, such as dandelion, nettle, ground elder, and coltsfoot. The emergence of a diverse flowering vegetation in turn, boosted the insect fauna. Bumble bee diversity of Britain is intimately associated with cultural landscapes (Carvell et al., 2007), and caterpillars of numerous common butterflies depend on herbs and flowering plants of the cultural landscape. Even the tortoiseshell or the peacock, now common in alpine environments seemingly unaffected by humans, are leftovers from premodern cultural landscapes, where grazing livestock delivered the manure crucial for nettles, which is the only plant their larvae feed on. The abundance and diversity of dung beetles, several of which presently red-listed, is likewise an effect of livestock grazing in outfield (Hanski & Cambefort, 1991). The enhanced diversity of insects favored a corresponding increase in bird diversity (Pedersen & Krøgli, 2017)."


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