Original Nature

Consider an example--restoring the ecosystem at the Savannah River Plant
before and after
If we have messed up the environment and want to restore it to its original state, what is that original state?
Watch out for "common sense" assumptions that may be wrong, such as:
The natural state of the natural world isn't balance:
forest fire
Human beings have affected the environment long before the 20th century

four maps
              showing continental drift
Continental drift

200 million years ago all the continents had combined to form Pangaea
when they split North America stayed with Europe at first, so the plants and animals are less different
the plants and animals in Australia and New Zealand were more different because they were isolated for so long

What is result of the continents separating?
a painting
                    showing many different australian mammals
  • plants and animals developed differently in each one
  • partly to fit the local environment and partly by accident of what plants and animals were there in the first place
  • you would think in each place the animals would evolve to be best suited to the local environment, so animals coming in from outside wouldn't have much chance
  • but it turns out to be more complicated than that
  • big question running through most of the book--why were European plant and animals in many cases able to take over and displace the native plants and animals

What happened when the first human beings arrived in some of the isolated areas?

sculpture of california condor to show
Consider the California Condor:

The people of Australia and the Americas did not develop as advanced technology and farming as the people of Europe and Asia.  In particular they had far fewer kinds of domestic animals and were particularly short on animals to do work

small neolithic city in Mesopotamia
Elevation map of Çatal Hüyük, Southern Anatolia, Turkey
Neolithic , from 6500 up to 5700 years BP

Around 5000 years ago the people of Mesopotamia (Sumerians) had a full range of domesticated livestock and cities and writing appeared (Crosby lumps this with the invention of agriculture, but there are two steps, agriculture and irrigation)

Weeds, varmints (mice, rats, flies, etc.), and diseases  were problems Europeans struggled with on an ongoing basis
Even in Siberia, which had almost the same plants and animals as Europe, the indigenous people were laid low by diseases brought by Europeans
person with
              advanced smallpox
What happens when the European people and system of farming arrive in other places with different histories?

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
Hist 124
last updated 1/13/2010