, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 437-457

Tropical Islands as Paleoecological Laboratories: Gauging the Consequences of Human Arrival

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Abstract

Inter-island paleoecological comparisons have provided useful information concerning the role of humans vs. background-level disturbance in tropical ecosystems. Major ecological changes have occurred since human arrival in Madagascar, the West Indies, the Hawaiian Islands, and elsewhere. Prehuman vegetation changes and disturbances have also been documented for many islands. Instructive inter-island similarities and differences have been detected in the chronology, distribution, and extent of human activities, vegetation changes, and biotic extinctions. The earliest stratigraphic proxy evidence for initial human impacts (including increased charcoal particle influx to sediments, first appearance of exotic pollen, increase in ruderal pollen, and paleolimnological evidence for cultural eutrophication of lake waters) generally confirm but sometimes predate the earliest conventional archaeological evidence for human activity. Carefully chosen sites permitting the close integration of palynological, paleontological, and archaeological data from a variety of island settings with differing geographic and historical contingencies can enable investigators to more fully evaluate the importance of a range of human and ecological variables in determining the overall character and dynamics of ecosystems.