ecology: prehistoric people changed ecosystems

It’s been commonly assumed that American ecosystems remained pristine until the arrival of European settlers, who, by cutting down forests, introducing foreign species, and polluting the environment, disturbed the indigenous flora and fauna. But prehistoric Native Americans also altered their ecosystems, albeit on a smaller scale, reports a team of Canadian researchers in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition. Studying a freshwater pond in the Canadian Arctic that was near an abandoned 800-year-old winter settlement built by prehistoric Inuit whale hunters, Marianne Douglas of the University of Toronto and her colleagues found evidence that nutrient-rich whale byproducts leaching into the soil led to the pond having algal blooms, and affected its water quality and chemistry as well. Though the settlement has been deserted for more than 400 years, the human-caused disturbances are still evident today. The authors write: “It is ironic that the High Arctic, generally considered to be the last refuge from local human disturbance, contains the oldest record thus far obtained in the United States or Canada of a human population affecting freshwater ecology.”

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 1/27/2004.
This entry was posted in boston globe, news briefs. Bookmark the permalink.