News of recent studies has revealed that an estimated 390 billion trees are growing in Amazonia today, consisting of an approximate 16,000 species. 227 of these species are termed “hyperdominant”, because they represent about half of the total number of trees, while the rarest 11.000 species make up only 0.12% of the total.
Why only 227 species make up such a disproportional percentage of overall trees remains unknown.
“We knew that, normally, a few species dominate ecosystems, but if you have a system that has 16,000 tree species but just 227 make up half of the trees, that was pretty surprising even for us,” said lead author Dr Hans ter Steege from the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands.”
“In the paper, Dr. ter Steege and the team of more than 100 scientists wrote that there was no evidence that two key functional traits for trees – seed mass and wood density – played a part in determining what species dominated the landscape.” Read full article on BBC
Although the long and highly-involved history of human-forest habitation/impact/modification in Amazonia was not mentioned in the article(s), I am curious if the researchers have begun to look into the possible correlation between the 227 hyperdominant species and their ethnobotanical significance among past and present populations of Amazonian indigenous peoples. My guess is that the 227 hyperdominant species also have a wide range of human uses.
With recent findings confirming that sophisticated human societies inhabited the Bolivian Amazon 10,400 years ago, and that human habitation of the region likely dates back as far as 30,000 years, coupled with our firmly established understanding that Amazonian peoples have managed highly complex, large-scale domesticated landscapes (massive agro-silvo-pastoral systems), it seems inevitable that long-term human presence in the Amazon has played significant role in determining present day biodiversity and species distribution.
We’ll see what answers science comes up with.
Here are a few relevant articles on the subject of pre-Colombian Amazonian history, Amazonian agroforestry, and anthropogenic landscapes in the Amazon:
Agroforestry and the Built Environment by: Spencer Woodard (Anthropogen):
New Yorker: Under the Jungle by David Grann
I saw a recent article on the revival of the once extinct Judean date palm (an ancient Phoenix dactylifera cultivar) discussing how, in the 1960′s, a clay jar containing 2,000 year old seeds of the Judean Date palm was unearthed in an archeological dig at the site of Herod the Great‘s palace in Israel. Four decades later in 2005 botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to attempt to germinate a seed. He was successful. The palm seedling has since flowered and is considered to be the oldest known tree seed to germinate.
Here’s a link to the full article: Extinct tree grows anew from ancient jar of seeds unearthed by archaeologists
And some basic background information on the Judean Date Palm here.
To all loyal readers who may have wondered over the past few months… where is Anthropogen? his posts have been on the wane… Please excuse my extended absence, my wife Katerina and I had a baby girl. We named her Tilia, after the genus Tilia spp., of around 30 tree species native to then Northern Hemisphere. She is now just over two months old.
Scroll down for a few photos of our new baby punctuated by a blurbs of geographic, historical and ethnobotanical information on the Tilia genus.
Below are a few photos of our daughter when she was 1-7 days old.
In English, a number of common Tilia species are referred to as Lime (not related to the Citrus), Basswood, and Linden. Interestingly, the family formerly known as Tiliaceae has now apparently merged with Malvaceae, a growing plant family that seems have absorbed a number of my other favorite plant families, including Bombacaceae, Sterculiaceae, and Tiliaceae.
Here is a cross section of the Tilia tree via url.edu.
The Tilia genus occurs from Europe (Tilia cordata) over to southwestern Asia ( T. platyphyllos). It is also present in eastern N. America. Tilia trees are mostly large deciduous trees growing from 20 – 40 m in height. “Lime” is an altered form of Middle English lind, in the 16th century also line, from Old English feminine lind or linde, Proto-Germanic *lendā, cognate to Latin lentus “flexible” and Sanskrit latā “liana“. Within Germanic languages, English “lithe”, German lind “lenient, yielding” are from the same root.”…. “Latin tilia is cognate to Greek πτελέᾱ, ptelea, “elm tree“, τιλίαι, tiliai, “black poplar” (Hes.), ultimately from a Proto-Indo-European word *ptel-ei̯ā with a meaning of “broad” (feminine); perhaps “broad-leaved” or similar.“
A few more photos of Tilia…
Medicinally, a tea can be made from the dried flowers and bracts of T. cordata and T. platyphyllos, used as a diaphoretic and mild sedative. Lime flowers are also used to treat feverish colds, cough and sore throat, also as a sedative, antispasmodic, stomachic and diuretic. The double-flowered species are used to make perfumes. The leaf buds and young leaves are also edible raw.
Another incredible cross section of the stem of a Tilia tree.
Here are a few old botanical print of Tilia spp.
Reportedly, flowers of the Linden tree make exceptional bee forage and produce a very pale but richly flavored monofloral honey. The flowers are also used for tisanes and tinctures; this kind of use is particularly popular in Europe and also used in North American herbal medicine practices.
Below, Katerina and Tilia.
The wood of most Tilia spp. is easily worked considered a highly versatile timber. Linden trees typically have heart-shaped leaves, most have small groups of greenish-yellow scented flowers. Traditionally, court was held under a linden tree in Central Europe.
Two photos photo of Tilia displaying her long fingers.
Reportedly. in Europe, linden trees are known to have reached ages measured in centuries, if not longer. A coppice of T. cordata in Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire, for example, is estimated to be 2,000 years old. In the courtyard of the Imperial Castle at Nuremberg is a Tilia which tradition says was planted by the Empress Cunigunde, the wife of Henry II of Germany. This would make the tree about 900 years old in 1900 when it was described. It looks ancient and infirm, but in 1900 was sending forth a few leaves on its two or three remaining branches and was, of course, cared for tenderly. The Tilia of Neuenstadt am Kocher in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, was computed to be 1000 years old when it fell.The Alte Linde tree of Naters, Switzerland, is mentioned in a document in 1357 and described by the writer at that time as already magnam (huge). A plaque at its foot mentions that in 1155 a linden tree was already on this spot.
Here’s a follow-up article (below) related to the one I just posted on the dating old forest islands in the Moxos region of the Bolivian Amazon
From NBC News Science
Humans explored ‘Treasure Island’ much earlier than thought
Charles Q. Choi
Aug. 28, 2013 at 6:29 PM ET
Ancient trash heaps in Bolivia used for millennia now suggest humans explored the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, researchers say.
This discovery adds to the evidence that people made it deep into the Americas much earlier than previously thought, scientists added.
Scientists concentrated on a tropical savannah region in the Bolivian Amazon that past researchers thought was too harsh of an environment for ancient peoples to inhabit. Hundreds of small, forested mounts of earth known as “forest islands” dot these lowlands, which are seasonally flooded by water. These forest islands were typically thought of as natural in origin — for instance, as landforms cut away by shifting rivers, or long-term termite mounds or bird rookeries.
Now, investigators have found that three of these forested islands are shell middens — piles of freshwater snail shells left by human settlers more than 10,000 years ago, according to carbon dating. The newfound site “is the oldest archaeological site in southern and western Amazonia,” said researcher Umberto Lombardo, a geographer at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “This discovery alters the map of early human occupations in South America.”