Ecosystem service provision sets the pace for pre-Hispanic societal development in the central Andes

W. D. Gosling, J. J. Williams

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19 Citations (SciVal)


Human access to natural resources (or provisioning ecosystem services) is controlled by climate conditions and usage. In the central Andean highlands,
around Lake Titicaca, water and woodlands have been critical resources for human populations over the last 5000 years. During this time period, human
society developed from mobile hunter–forager groups into settled agrarian populations (c. 3400 years ago) through to the rise of some of the first
‘civilizations’ in the central Andes (c. 2500 years ago). Records of past environmental and vegetation change reveal that coincident with these societal
reorganizations were variations in the availability of water and woodland resource. Prior to Hispanic arrival in the central Andes (before ad 1532), changes
in availability of natural resources are shown to be concomitant with societal reorganizations; however, changes in societal organization are shown not to
necessarily result in the degradation of ecosystem services (i.e. woodland resource available). Through the last 5000 years, three concomitant repeated
adaptive cycles of destabilization, reorganization, growth and maxima are identified in human and ecological systems. This suggests that long-term (>100
year) societal development was paced by both increases and decreases in ecosystem service provision. The approach of past societies to dealing with
changes in baseline resource availability may provide a useful model for policymakers to consider in the light of the predicted scarcity of resource over
the coming decades.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1619-1624
Number of pages6
Issue number11
Early online date23 Jul 2013
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013


  • past environmental change
  • shifting baseline
  • pre-Columbian
  • palaeoecology
  • natural resources
  • archaeology


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