Ecosystem service provision sets the pace for pre-Hispanic societal development in the central Andes

Gosling, William D. and Williams, Joseph J. (2013). Ecosystem service provision sets the pace for pre-Hispanic societal development in the central Andes. Holocene, 23(11) pp. 1617–1622.



Human access to natural resources (or provisioning ecosystem services) is controlled by climate conditions and usage. In the central Andean highlands, around Lake Titicaca, water and woodlands have been critical resources for human populations over the last 5000 years. During this time period human society developed of mobile hunter-forager groups into settled agrarian populations (c. 3400 years ago) through to the rise of some of the first ‘civilizations’ in the central Andes (c. 2500 years ago). Records of past environmental and vegetation change reveal that coincident with these societal reorganizations were variations in the availability of water and woodland resource. Prior to Hispanic arrival in the central Andes (before A.D. 1532) changes in availability of natural resources are shown to be concomitant with societal reorganizations; however, changes in societal organisation are shown not to necessarily result in the degradation of ecosystem services (i.e. woodland resource available). Through the last 5000 years three concomitant repeated adaptive cycles of destabilization, reorganisation, growth and maxima are identified in human and ecological systems. This suggests that long-term (>100 year) societal development was paced by both increases and decreases in ecosystem service provision. The approach of past societies to dealing with changes in baseline resource availability may provide a useful model for policy makers to consider in the light of the predicted scarcity of resource over the coming decades.

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