Article

A 2,000-year reconstruction of the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in the US Southwest

  • Nature Communications 5, Article number: 5618 (2014)
  • doi:10.1038/ncomms6618
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Abstract

Humans experience, adapt to and influence climate at local scales. Paleoclimate research, however, tends to focus on continental, hemispheric or global scales, making it difficult for archaeologists and paleoecologists to study local effects. Here we introduce a method for high-frequency, local climate-field reconstruction from tree-rings. We reconstruct the rain-fed maize agricultural niche in two regions of the southwestern United States with dense populations of prehispanic farmers. Niche size and stability are highly variable within and between the regions. Prehispanic rain-fed maize farmers tended to live in agricultural refugia—areas most reliably in the niche. The timing and trajectory of the famous thirteenth century Pueblo migration can be understood in terms of relative niche size and stability. Local reconstructions like these illuminate the spectrum of strategies past humans used to adapt to climate change by recasting climate into the distributions of resources on which they depended.

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Acknowledgements

Funding to support the Village Ecodynamics Project research and reporting has come from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (grant R-047 to Kohler), the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research (CONF-217 to Kohler and Gumerman), the National Science Foundation (BCS-0119981 to Kohler, Kolm, Reynolds and Varien, DEB-0816400 to Kohler, Allen, Kobti and Varien, and DGE-1347973 to Bocinsky) and from the School of Advanced Research for a Research Team Seminar (grant to Ortman and Kohler). We are indebted to support from Washington State University, the Santa Fe Institute, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center and the Washington State University/University of Washington NSF IGERT Program in Evolutionary Modeling (DGE-0549425). We especially acknowledge contributors to the International Tree-Ring Data Bank and North American Pollen Database, and the PRISM Climate Group at Oregon State University.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Anthropology, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington 99164, USA

    • R. Kyle Bocinsky
    •  & Timothy A. Kohler
  2. Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, USA

    • Timothy A. Kohler
  3. Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez, Colorado 81321, USA

    • Timothy A. Kohler

Authors

  1. Search for R. Kyle Bocinsky in:

  2. Search for Timothy A. Kohler in:

Contributions

R.K.B. and T.A.K. designed the analysis and wrote the paper. R.K.B. implemented the analysis.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. Kyle Bocinsky.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Figures 1-5, Supplementary Tables 1-17, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary References

Videos

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Movie 1

    The rain-fed maize agricultural niche from AD 1-2000. The upper panels represent the VEPIIN study area; the lower panels represent VEPIIS. Each panel's color gradient breaks at the extent of that signal's agricultural niche. Thin black lines are at the upper and lower prediction intervals. Scale bar: 10 km. a,b, Net water-year precipitation, green portion in niche. e,f, Growing-season GDDs, red portion in niche. c,d, The rain-fed maize agricultural niche, light green portion in upper PI, medium green portion in niche, dark green portion in lower PI.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Movie 2

    Model skill in reconstructing net water-year precipitation. Areas that are more teal show higher reconstruction skill. Only the years where tree-ring chronologies are added or removed are shown. R2, validation R2; RM SEn, normalized root mean squared prediction error; C E, coefficient of efficiency. Each performance statistic has its own legend and color-scale. Scale bar: 10 km. a, VEPIIN R2. b, VEPIIS R2. c, VEPIIN RM SEn. d, VEPIIS RM SEn. e, VEPIIN C E. f, VEPIIS C E.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Movie 3

    Model skill in reconstructing growing-season growing degree days.. Areas that are more teal show higher reconstruction skill. Only the years where tree-ring chronologies are added or removed are shown. R2, validation R2; RM SEn, normalized root mean squared prediction error; C E, coefficient of efficiency. Each performance statistic has its own legend and color-scale. Scale bar: 10 km. a, VEPIIN R2. b, VEPIIS R2. c, VEPIIN RM SEn. d, VEPIIS RM SEn. e, VEPIIN C E. f, VEPIIS C E.

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