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AMAZON ECOLOGIES: BIOLOGICAL, INDIGENOUS, AND COLONIAL INTRODUCTION The Amazon and its peoples remain a mystery to most outsiders, and the impressions that the latter hold are often more fiction than fact (Slater 2002). Understanding the Amazon’s diversity — geological, geographic, biological, historical, cultural, linguistic, and political— is a major key for unlocking its secrets. Another is the philosophy, religion, science, technology, and culture of the indigenous and other people who reside in this environment. Seldom are their views considered, although anthropologists have tried to convey them to the outside world for decades. What is more important, the peoples of the Amazon are increasingly speaking out for themselves (Le Breton 1993, Slater 2002). Here the Amazon will be described successively in terms of its biological, indigenous, and colonial ecologies. These three ecologies provide different but complementary approaches for understanding the environment and nature of this awesome region. BIOLOGICAL ECOLOGY Tropical rain forests are the most ancient, diverse, complex, and productive ecosystems on the terrestrial surface of the Earth. About one third of the world's forests are tropical rain forests. Although they cover only about 6-8% of this planet's land surface, they contain about half of all life, whether this is measured by the number of species (biological diversity) or organic weight (biomass). Tropical rain forests form a discontinuous green belt around the equatorial regions of the planet, concentrated within ten degrees latitude north and south of the equator, but in many areas extending to about latitude 23.5 degrees north and south within the tropical zone. About half of the world's tropical rain forest is in the Amazon region, the largest reservoir of biological diversity in the world. Typically within just a few square miles of forest live more than a thousand species of plants and hundreds of species each of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. The Amazon is a vast region comprising about 4% of the terrestrial surface of the planet. It is about the size of the continental United States. The Amazon is bordered by the Andes mountains, Guyana Highlands, Brazilian Highlands, and the Atlantic Ocean. Portions of the Amazon region are included within the territories of nine South American countries: French Guiana, Surinam, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil. However, about 80% of the Amazon is in Brazil. The Amazon River, the longest in the world (6,700km), drains about 40% of the continent of South America, and carries 20% of all of the river water in the entire world. Distinctions are made between the flood plain (fluvial zone) and the interior (inter-fluvial zone). The latter are also referred to as terra firme. Some forests are permanently flooded, others only seasonally, and still others not at all. In general most of the Amazon region is some variant of tropical rain forest, but there is no
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This note was uploaded on 04/28/2011 for the course ANTH 482 taught by Professor Mills during the Spring '11 term at University of Hawaii, Manoa.

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