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Farming, fishing, and fire in the history of the upper Río Negro region of Venezuela


Studies of Río Negro subsistence farming and fishing activities are used to estimate the human carrying capacity for the region and the likely pattern of human land-use during prehistory. Ceramic evidence suggests human presence in the region more than 3000 years ago. Traditional farming is labor intensive and relatively unproductive. Nevertheless, farmers achieve an energy return of 15.2∶1, and produce 2600 kcal per work hour. Fish are the major protein source, but fish catch per unit of effort and fish yield per hectare of floodplain are very low; fishermen are probably exploiting local fish resources very close to their limit. The low human population density would suggest that the Río Negro forest has been relatively undisturbed. Nevertheless, charcoal is widespread and abundant in forest soils. This charcoal is probably from anthropogenic or natural wildfires. These results suggest a much more complex history for Amazonia than previously thought.

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Correspondence to Kathleen Clark or Christopher Uhl.

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K. Clark is a free-lance biologist residing in Lima, Peru

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Clark, K., Uhl, C. Farming, fishing, and fire in the history of the upper Río Negro region of Venezuela. Hum Ecol 15, 1–26 (1987).

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Key words

  • Amazon
  • fire
  • fishing
  • agriculture
  • energetics