Tropical Trees as Time Capsules of Anthropogenic Activity

Trends Plant Sci. 2020 Apr;25(4):369-380. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2019.12.010. Epub 2020 Feb 6.


After the ice caps, tropical forests are globally the most threatened terrestrial environments. Modern trees are not just witnesses to growing contemporary threats but also legacies of past human activity. Here, we review the use of dendrochronology, radiocarbon analysis, stable isotope analysis, and DNA analysis to examine ancient tree management. These methods exploit the fact that living trees record information on environmental and anthropogenic selective forces during their own and past generations of growth, making trees living archaeological 'sites'. The applicability of these methods across prehistoric, historic, and industrial periods means they have the potential to detect evolving anthropogenic threats and can be used to set conservation priorities in rapidly vanishing environments.

Keywords: archaeology; dendrochronology; genetics; isotope analysis; tropical forests; tropics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capsules
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Forests
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Trees*
  • Tropical Climate


  • Capsules