Ecology of the collapse of Rapa Nui society.
The collapse of the Rapa Nui (Easter Island) society may have been more closely linked to climate change than conflict.
Possible reasons for the infamous decline of Easter Island’s indigenous people range from brutal conflicts with European invaders to unchecked population growth that exhausted the island’s ecological resources.
A team that included researchers from the Spanish National Research Council determined past human energy consumption on the island from archaeological data. By using human energy consumption as a proxy for population size, they then modelled population trends against changes in vegetation cover and climate since the island was colonized nearly 1,000 years ago.
Their results suggest population decline set in before foreign settlers arrived and was due to droughts putting strain on food production.
Understanding the effects of past climate change on sensitive societies could help such populations better prepare for their own sustainability challenges.
- Proc. Roy. Soc. B 287, 20200662 (2020). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0662