Forest ecology, maya, lidar, tropical forests, land use legacies, ancient agriculture, terraces
Human land use legacies have significant and long lasting impacts across landscapes. However, investigating the impacts of ancient land use legacies (>400 years) remains problematic due to the difficulty in detecting ancient land uses, especially those beneath dense canopies. The city of Caracol, one of the most important Maya archaeological sites in Belize, was abandoned after the collapse of the Maya civilization (ca. A.D. 900), leaving behind numerous structures, causeways, and agricultural terraces that persist beneath the dense tropical forest of western Belize. LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology enables detection of below canopy Maya archaeological features, providing an ideal opportunity to study the effects of ancient land use legacies on contemporary tropical forest composition. LiDAR also provided us with a detailed record of the 3-dimensional forest structure over the 200 km2 study area. This allowed the investigation how ancient land uses continue to impact both forest composition, in terms of tree species, and forest structure. I recorded tree species over four land use categories: 1) structures, 2) causeways, 3) terraced, and 4) non-terraced land. Using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) and multiresponse permutation procedures (MRPP) to test for differences between the classes, I found significantly distinct tree communities associated with the presence of terraces and the underlying topography. Terraced slopes appear to function as micro-valleys on the side of a hill, creating an environmental "bridge" between slope and valley tree communities. Tree species composition over causeways and structures was also found to be significantly different from terraced and non-terraced plots. iv Forest structure was assessed by extracting LiDAR points for terraced (n=150) and nonterraced (n=150) 0.25 ha plots. I calculated average canopy height, canopy closure, and vertical diversity from the height bins of the LiDAR points, using slope, elevation, and aspect as covariates. Using PerMANOVA I determined that forest structure over terraces was significantly different from non-terraced land. Terraces appear to mediate the effect of slope, resulting in less structural variation between slope and non-sloped land. These results led to the conclusion that human land uses abandoned >1000 years ago continue to impact the contemporary forests.
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Master of Science (M.S.)
College of Sciences
Length of Campus-only Access
Masters Thesis (Open Access)
Dissertations, Academic -- Sciences, Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic
Hightower, Jessica N., "Relating Ancient Maya Land Use Legacies To The Contemporary Forest Of Caracol, Belize" (2012). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2455.