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All ecosystems have a history of past human impacts, some obvious, others subtle, Emily Russell contends in this fascinating exploration of historical ecology. To understand the lingering consequences of human history on current ecosystems and landscapes, and conversely to understand the role that changing environments have played in human history, the author urges an interdisciplinary approach. Different disciplines working together can develop information that none alone can provide. History matters for all manner of ecological and environmental studies, both theoretical and applied, says Russell, and integration of these disciplines can assist us in dealing responsibly with our role in the biosphere.
People and the Land Through Time begins with a discussion of three major sources of evidence that elucidate the history of an ecosystem: historical documents, field studies, and sedimentary records. The author then considers ways that people have affected the environment over time, using for examples a wide variety of habitats from all over the world. Some instances of human impact on the environment – such as using fire and altering species rangesare difficult to distinguish from nonhuman impacts. Others – such as agriculture and patterns of land ownership – are distinctly human. People and the Land Through Time's final section shows how a historical ecological approach deepens understanding of current environmental issues, including changes to lakes, loss of biodiversity, and sustainability of the biosphere.
"By merging ecology and the history of human activity and drawing from diverse international examples, Russell defines an impressive approach for reading, interpreting, and managing natural landscapes"
- David Foster, Director of the Harvard Forest, Harvard University