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Humans often degrade environment, but native peoples enhanced it

"This area that at first glance seems pristine and wild is actually highly modified and enhanced as a result of human behavior," explained researcher Andrew Trant.

By
Brooks Hays
On parts of the coast in British Columbia, the long-term presence of native peoples has actually enhanced forest productivity. Photo by Will McInnes/Hakai Institute
On parts of the coast in British Columbia, the long-term presence of native peoples has actually enhanced forest productivity. Photo by Will McInnes/Hakai Institute

WATERLOO, Ontario, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- For the last 13,000 years, the native peoples of British Columbia improved the land upon which they depended. The land's trajectory stands in stark contrast to much of the rest of the world, where environmental degradation is the norm.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo, University of Victoria and the Hakai Institute combined ecological and archaeological data to measure the long-term impact of the First Nations of coastal British Columbia.

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The results shows the temperate rain forests around settlement sites are actually more productive than untouched acreage. The trees are taller, wider and greener.

"It's incredible that in a time when so much research is showing us the negative legacies people leave behind, here is the opposite story," Andrew Trant, a professor in Waterloo's School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability, said in a news release. "These forests are thriving from the relationship with coastal First Nations."

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"For more than 13,000 years -- 500 generations -- people have been transforming this landscape," Trant continued. "So this area that at first glance seems pristine and wild is actually highly modified and enhanced as a result of human behavior."

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Trant and his research partners believe the enhanced forest health is at least partially explained by seafood. For millennia, native peoples have retrieved, processed and eaten shellfish and seafood, depositing the remains on the forest floor. Over time, the deep shellfish middens have provided the forest soil with marine-derived nutrients like calcium.

Scientists say the combination of fishing and fire altered the forest in other positive ways, like improving soil pH and drainage.

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Researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

"These results alter the way we think about time and environmental impact," Trant said. "Future research will involve studying more of these human-modified landscapes to understand the extent of these unexpected changes."

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