Carbon Reserves in Central American Soils Still Affected by Ancient Mayan Deforestation


Finding underscores potential impact of soil management on future greenhouse-gas levels

Deforestation is suspected to have contributed to the mysterious collapse of Mayan civilization more than 1,000 years ago. A new study shows that the forest-clearing also decimated carbon reservoirs in the tropical soils of the Yucatan peninsula region long after ancient cities were abandoned and the forests grew back. The findings, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, underscore how important soils and our treatment of them could be in determining future levels of greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere.

The Maya began farming around 4,000 years ago, and the spread of agriculture and building of cities eventually led to widespread deforestation and soil erosion, previous research has shown. What’s most surprising in the new study is that the soils in the region haven’t fully recovered as carbon sinks in over a millennium of reforestation, says McGill University geochemist Peter Douglas, lead author of the new paper.

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