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Por el camino verde: Long-term tropical socioecosystem dynamics and the Anthropocene as seen from Puerto Rico


Islands are traditionally considered sensitive to environment and climate change. The Caribbean Islands are a biodiversity hotspot, where conservation efforts should be a priority. However, the archaeological record suggests that the biotic characteristics of the islands, even within nature or forests reserves, are strongly shaped by thousands of years of intense human activity. This presents an issue for conservation efforts because defining what should be preserved and what should be reconstructed is not straightforward. Using Puerto Rico as case study, this article explores how socioecosystem dynamics influenced the biotic characteristics of the island at specific archaeological periods and to what extent these processes have affected the environmental resources on the island today. Climatic data, its implications on forest type and cover, and landscape characteristics as seen from sedimentary records, combined with archaeological data on human–environment interactions over time, from the mid-Holocene to the present are used to investigate these themes. This article brings forth more questions than answers, but it reflects the status of deep-time environmental research on the island, which is still in its early stages. I argue that, starting from the earliest occupations, human influence has altered the ecology of Puerto Rico so deeply that the natural resources we work toward preserving, conserving, or restoring today cannot be understood without considering the social contexts that shaped them. In this sense, if the Anthropocene is a proposal to rename the current geological period because of the overwhelming physical evidence of change that human activity has left behind, then the history of the Puerto Rico supports the proposal for the application of the term since at least 5 ka. Applying the concept would bring the relevance of human activity to the forefront, contributing to the reconsideration of the role of humans in the formation and preservation of modern ecological systems.

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