Critically endangered swathes of forest found across parts of South America owe their existence to the indigenous people who have lived in harmony with them for centuries. Experts assumed monkey puzzle trees had expanded centuries ago due to wetter and warmer weather spreading across the region. However, new research suggests Southern Je communities played an active role in their creation, cultivating the trees for food and other purposes.
"Our research shows these landscapes were man-made,” said Dr Mark Robinson, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter. “Communities settled on grassland, and then – perhaps because they modified the soil, protected seedlings or even planted trees – established these forests in places where geographically they shouldn't have flourished." Together with an international team of scientists, Dr Robinson realised that in areas of intense archaeological activity these trees were everywhere – where the trees had grown independently from humans they only grew on south-facing slopes.
Deciding to explore this further, the researchers found that monkey puzzle trees had undergone two massive expansions across the region. The first, which occurred around 4,480 to 3,200 years ago, was likely due to an increase in moisture – but this did not explain the second major pulse in tree growth that took place more recently, peaking around 800 years ago... read more: