Long-term effects of socioeconomic activity on ecological stability

Lead PI: Dr. Dylan S. Davis , Dr. Kristina G. Douglass
July 2022 - June 2024
Project Type: Research Fellowship


This project investigates the nature of socio-ecological dynamics among societies with different modes of production in SW Madagascar using remote sensing, machine learning, and geochemical soil analyses. Madagascar represents a unique location to study socioenvironmental dynamics over the past 2000-3000 years, as the region contains an increasingly well-documented archaeological record with evidence that ancient communities relied on a diversity of subsistence strategies and sustained livelihoods through extreme episodes of environmental and climatic change. Two specific questions are asked: 1. How do long-term habitations of foraging communities’ impact local and regional soil and vegetative diversity and how do these impacts compare to short-term occupations and with other socioeconomic groups (i.e., herders, agriculturalists)? And 2. How do different socioeconomic systems influence the ecological legacy of human occupation in an area and how can these differences inform our understanding of sustainability? This study will provide an in-depth analysis of how small-scale societies changed the Earth’s ecological systems at local and regional scales using SW Madagascar as a case study. On Madagascar, where coastal communities are at increased risk from climate change, improving our understanding of long-term human-environment interactions and past human response to environmental change is pivotal for developing useful conservation policies. By shifting attention toward small-scale community environmental impacts, this project builds new approaches to identify subtle ecological legacies at the landscape scale.