Human Impacts on Ancient Marine Ecosystems: A Global Perspective

By Torben C. Rick; Jon M. Erlandson | Go to book overview

4
Historical Ecology and Human Impacts
on Coastal Ecosystems of the Santa Barbara
Channel Region, California

Torben C. Rick, Jon M. Erlandson, Todd J. Braje, James A. Estes, Michael H. Graham, and René L. Vellanoweth

IN RECENT YEARS, a number of researchers have emphasized the importance of archaeological and historical records for elucidating contemporary environmental issues and crises (e.g., Diamond 2005; Grayson 2001; Jackson et al. 2001; Kirch 1997; Kirch and Hunt 1997; Krech 1999; Lyman and Cannon 2004; Redman 1999; Redman et al. 2004). Many of these studies have demonstrated that virtually everywhere humans have gone they have had an impact and influence on local environments. These impacts have sometimes been profound. Although still a hotly debated and contentious issue (see Grayson and Meltzer 2002, 2003; Wroe et al. 2006), some researchers argue that early humans, as they spread into new regions of the world during the Late Quaternary, actually transformed entire biotas by causing the extinctions of numerous large vertebrate species (Martin 2005). Others have speculated that the sudden loss of these large vertebrate consumers—regardless of the cause—had important ecological and evolutionary consequences (Barlow 2000; Janzen and Martin 1982). The scale and magnitude of human environmental impacts, however, varied greatly both geographically and temporally, suggesting that much remains to be learned about ancient human interactions with the environment (Redman 1999; van der Leeuw and Redman 2002). This is particularly true of coastal regions, where archaeologists stand to make important contributions to our understanding of marine ecology, the role of ancient peoples in influencing environmental change, and the best strategies for future remediation of marine habitats and fisheries (Jackson et al. 2001).

In this chapter, we examine the historical ecology of marine ecosystems of the Santa Barbara Channel region of southern California (Figure 4.1) from the terminal Pleistocene to the present, focusing on evidence for ancient human impacts on marine fisheries and habitats. The area has been occupied by Native Americans for roughly 13,000 calendar years and, in historical times, supported important sea otter, pinniped, swordfish, sardine, rockfish, abalone, urchin, lobster, and other fisheries.

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