Pyrodiversity and the anthropocene: the role of fire in the broad spectrum revolution

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Abstract

The Anthropocene colloquially refers to a global regime of human-caused environmental modification of earth systems associated with profound changes in patterns of human mobility, as well as settlement and resource use compared with prior eras. Some have argued that the processes generating the Anthropocene are mainly associated with population growth and technological innovation, and thus began only in the late Holocene under conditions of dense sedentism and industrial agriculture.1 However, it now seems clear that the roots of the Anthropocene lie in complex processes of intensification that significantly predate transitions to agriculture.2,3 What intensification is remains less clear. For some it is increasing economic productivity that increases carrying capacity, the drivers of which may be too diverse and too local to generalize.4,5 For others using Boserup's ideas about agrarian intensification, increasing density in hunter-gatherer populations can produce declines in subsistence efficiency that increase incentives for investing labor to boost yield per unit area, which then elevates Malthusian limits on carrying capacity.6–8 As Morgan9 demonstrates in a comprehensive review, the legacy of such Boserupian intensification is alive, well, and controversial in hunter-gatherer archeology. This is a result of its potential for illuminating processes involved in transformations of forager socio-political and economic systems, including those dominated by harvesting more immediate-return resources and high residential mobility as well as those characterized by more delayed-return material economies with reduced residential mobility, a broader spectrum of resources, degrees of storage, and greater social stratification. Here we detail hypotheses about the processes involved in such transitions and explore the way that anthropogenic disturbance of ecosystems, especially the use of landscape fire, could be fundamentally entangled with many broad-spectrum revolutions associated with intensified foraging systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-116
Number of pages12
JournalEvolutionary anthropology
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology

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