Forests reveal lingering effects of native cultures
|Honey locust with pods [Credit: Robert J. Warren II]|
Warren began his surveys and field experiments, including seedling introductions, in 2009. "I always have an underlying interest in the patterning of plant species," he said. "While I was doing field work in Southern Appalachia, I noticed that whenever I saw a honey locust, I could throw a rock and hit a Cherokee archeological site. I knew that, in the late Pleistocene era, the main source of dispersal for honey locusts was megafauna such as mastodons. But mastodons disappeared more than 10,000 years ago. You'd expect plant species that relied strictly on extinct megafauna for seed dispersal would only exist in small, remnant populations."
|Pods were a source of sugar [Credit: Robert J. Warren II]|
"When we look at distribution of plant species," he said, "ecologists are accustomed to assume that plants thrive in habitats with abiotic characteristics--water, sunlight, soil type--that meet the plants' needs. Questioning that assumption leads to interesting discoveries." Warren explores mutualism between biotic (living) organisms such as insects and the plants that depend on them. In Ghosts of cultivation past, he notes that "…some plant distributions better reflect the niche requirements of the mutualist than the plant itself."
|Thorn on the bark [Credit: Robert J. Warren II]|
Warren said that the same may be true for other trees, including paw paws and the Kentucky coffeetree, and probably many others. "Native Americans of North America were shaping their environment long before the colonial period," said Warren. "Instead of pyramids and temples, they left their mark in the ecosystem they helped to create."
Source: SUNY Buffalo State [March 15, 2016]