Long-term forest-savannah dynamics in the Bolivian Amazon: implications for conservation

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2007 Feb 28;362(1478):291-307. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1987.


The aim of this paper is to evaluate the respective roles of past changes in climate, geomorphology and human activities in shaping the present-day forest-savannah mosaic of the Bolivian Amazon, and consider how this palaeoecological perspective may help inform conservation strategies for the future. To this end, we review a suite of palaeoecological and archaeological data from two distinct forest-savannah environments in lowland Bolivia: Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (NKMNP) on the Precambrian Shield and the 'Llanos de Moxos' in the Beni basin. We show that they contain markedly contrasting legacies of past climatic, geomorphic and anthropogenic influences between the last glacial period and the Spanish Conquest. In NKMNP, increasing precipitation caused evergreen rainforest expansion, at the expense of semi-deciduous dry forest and savannahs, over the last three millennia. In contrast, pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures were instrumental in facilitating recent forest expansion in the Llanos de Moxos by building a vast network of earthworks. Insights from Mid-Holocene palaeodata, together with ecological observations and modelling studies, suggest that there will be progressive replacement of rainforest by dry forest and savannah in NKMNP over the twenty-first century in response to the increased drought predicted by general circulation models. Protection of the latitudinal landscape corridors may be needed to facilitate these future species reassortments. However, devising appropriate conservation strategies for the Llanos de Moxos will be more difficult due to its complex legacy of Palaeo-Indian impact. Without fully understanding the degree to which its current biota has been influenced by past native cultures, the type and intensity of human land use appropriate for this landscape in the future will be difficult to ascertain.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biodiversity*
  • Bolivia
  • Climate*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Disasters / history*
  • Ecosystem*
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Population Dynamics
  • Trees / growth & development*