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Research during the late 20th and early 21st centuries found that traces of human intervention in vegetation in Southeast Asian and Australasian forests started extremely early, quite probably close to the first colonization of the region by modern people around or before 50,000 years ago. It also identified what may be insubstantial evidence for the translocation of economically important plants during the latest Pleistocene and Early Holocene. These activities may reflect early experiments with plants which evolved into agroforestry. Early in the Holocene, land management/food procurement systems, in which trees were a very significant component, seem to have developed over very extensive areas, often underpinned by dispersal of starchy plants, some of which seem to show domesticated morphologies, although the evidence for this is still relatively insubstantial. These land management/food procurement systems might be regarded as a sort of precursor to agroforestry. Similar systems were reported historically during early Western contact, and some agroforest systems survive to this day, although they are threatened in many places by expansion of other types of land use. The wide range of recorded agroforestry makes categorizing impacts problematical, but widespread disruption of vegetational succession across the region during the Holocene can perhaps be ascribed to agroforestry or similar land-management systems, and in more recent times impacts on biodiversity and geomorphological systems can be distinguished. Impacts of these early interventions in forests seem to have been variable and locally contingent, but what seem to have been agroforestry systems have persisted for millennia, suggesting that some may offer long-term sustainability.


Kimberly M. Carlson and Rachael D. Garrett

Oil crops play a critical role in global food and energy systems. Since these crops have high oil content, they provide cooking oils for human consumption, biofuels for energy, feed for animals, and ingredients in beauty products and industrial processes. In 2014, oil crops occupied about 20% of crop harvested area worldwide. While small-scale oil crop production for subsistence or local consumption continues in certain regions, global demand for these versatile crops has led to substantial expansion of oil crop agriculture destined for export or urban markets. This expansion and subsequent cultivation has diverse effects on the environment, including loss of forests, savannas, and grasslands, greenhouse gas emissions, regional climate change, biodiversity decline, fire, and altered water quality and hydrology. Oil palm in Southeast Asia and soybean in South America have been identified as major proximate causes of tropical deforestation and environmental degradation. Stringent conservation policies and yield increases are thought to be critical to reducing rates of soybean and oil palm expansion into natural ecosystems. However, the higher profits that often accompany greater yields may encourage further expansion, while policies that restrict oil crop expansion in one region may generate secondary “spillover” effects on other crops and regions. Due to these complex feedbacks, ensuring a sustainable supply of oil crop products to meet global demand remains a major challenge for agricultural companies, farmers, governments, and civil society.


Christopher Morgan, Shannon Tushingham, Raven Garvey, Loukas Barton, and Robert L. Bettinger

At the global scale, conceptions of hunter-gatherer economies have changed considerably over time and these changes were strongly affected by larger trends in Western history, philosophy, science, and culture. Seen as either “savage” or “noble” at the dawn of the Enlightenment, hunter-gatherers have been regarded as everything from holdovers from a basal level of human development, to affluent, ecologically-informed foragers, and ultimately to this: an extremely diverse economic orientation entailing the fullest scope of human behavioral diversity. The only thing linking studies of hunter-gatherers over time is consequently simply the definition of the term: people whose economic mode of production centers on wild resources. When hunter-gatherers are considered outside the general realm of their shared subsistence economies, it is clear that their behavioral diversity rivals or exceeds that of other economic orientations. Hunter-gatherer behaviors range in a multivariate continuum from: a focus on mainly large fauna to broad, wild plant-based diets similar to those of agriculturalists; from extremely mobile to sedentary; from relying on simple, generalized technologies to very specialized ones; from egalitarian sharing economies to privatized competitive ones; and from nuclear family or band-level to centralized and hierarchical decision-making. It is clear, however, that hunting and gathering modes of production had to have preceded and thus given rise to agricultural ones. What research into the development of human economies shows is that transitions from one type of hunting and gathering to another, or alternatively to agricultural modes of production, can take many different evolutionary pathways. The important thing to recognize is that behaviors which were essential to the development of agriculture—landscape modification, intensive labor practices, the division of labor and the production, storage, and redistribution of surplus—were present in a range of hunter-gatherer societies beginning at least as early as the Late Pleistocene in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Whether these behaviors eventually led to the development of agriculture depended in part on the development of a less variable and CO2-rich climatic regime and atmosphere during the Holocene, but also a change in the social relations of production to allow for hoarding privatized resources. In the 20th and 21st centuries, ethnographic and archaeological research shows that modern and ancient peoples adopt or even revert to hunting and gathering after having engaged in agricultural or industrial pursuits when conditions allow and that macroeconomic perspectives often mask considerable intragroup diversity in economic decision making: the pursuits and goals of women versus men and young versus old within groups are often quite different or even at odds with one another, but often articulate to form cohesive and adaptive economic wholes. The future of hunter-gatherer research will be tested by the continued decline in traditional hunting and gathering but will also benefit from observation of people who revert to or supplement their income with wild resources. It will also draw heavily from archaeology, which holds considerable potential to document and explain the full range of human behavioral diversity, hunter-gatherer or otherwise, over the longest of timeframes and the broadest geographic scope.