Pristine Called into Question

by Jackson Cooney

There has been recent controversy over the state of many pristine rain forests. Those that have previously been called “virgin” due to the absence of human interaction are now being reviewed. It seems that humans have inhabited forests such the Amazon Basin, the lowland Congo basin, and the Indo-Malay region of Southeast Asia for many years. Evidence of human presence in these virgin forests includes pottery fragments, charcoal soil lairs, and iron tools. Because of this, there is little doubt of the presence of human civilizations in these lands. The question becomes: how has their presence affected the forests ability to prevail. These natives have used slash and burn techniques to create agriculture space, which has been largely thought of as the most harmful deforestation methods in recent times. It seems that the presence of humans on these lands about 2,500 years ago has actually enhanced the soil fertility due to this burning method. Human intervention and management of the land may have also caused an increase in tree diversity.

The human intervention seems to have given the forests a better advantage with “terra preta” soil, a soil with an abundance of nutrients that fosters tree growth. The one factor that is needed to increase the forests wellbeing seems to be time after human interaction. The forests need adequate time to recover form the loss of hectares due to the slash and burn methods. However, as proven by these virgin forests, the current forests occupied by humans should be able to regrow to their full potential with sufficient time. These newly discovered facts could help rainforest conservationists by providing them with information on the time it takes for forests to regenerate after humans leave and the likely composition of the new forests. These findings should give some relief to conservationists; however, it should not be used as an excuse to give up on rainforest conservation. Finally, rainforests being cleared should be allowed sufficient time to regenerate.

Willis, K. J., Gillson, L., Brncic, T. M. 2004. How “Virgin” Is Virgin Rainforest? Science, 304, 402-203.

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