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Is the spatial distribution of mankind’s most basic economic traits determined by climate and soil alone?

Beck J, Sieber A.. (2010) Is the spatial distribution of mankind’s most basic economic traits determined by climate and soil alone? PLoS ONE, Vol. 5, H. 5 , e10416.

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Official URL: http://edoc.unibas.ch/dok/A5840858

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Abstract

Background: Several authors, most prominently Jared Diamond (1997, Guns, Germs and Steel), have investigated biogeographic determinants of human history and civilization. The timing of the transition to an agricultural lifestyle, associated with steep population growth and consequent societal change, has been suggested to be affected by the availability of suitable organisms for domestication. These factors were shown to quantitatively explain some of the current global inequalities of economy and political power. Here, we advance this approach one step further by looking at climate and soil as sole determining factors.Methodology/Principal Findings: As a simplistic ‘null model’, we assume that only climate and soil conditions affect the suitability of four basic landuse types – agriculture, sedentary animal husbandry, nomadic pastoralism and hunting-andgathering. Using ecological niche modelling (ENM), we derive spatial predictions of the suitability for these four landuse traits and apply these to the Old World and Australia. We explore two aspects of the properties of these predictions, conflict potential and population density. In a calculation of overlap of landuse suitability, we map regions of potential conflict between landuse types. Results are congruent with a number of real, present or historical, regions of conflict between ethnic groups associated with different landuse traditions. Furthermore, we found that our model of agricultural suitability explains a considerable portion of population density variability. We mapped residuals from this correlation, finding geographically highly structured deviations that invite further investigation. We also found that ENM of agricultural suitability correlates with a metric of local wealth generation (Gross Domestic Product, Purchasing Power Parity).Conclusions/Significance: From simplified assumptions on the links between climate, soil and landuse we are able to provide good predictions on complex features of human geography. The spatial distribution of deviations from ENM predictions identifies those regions requiring further investigation of potential explanations. Our findings and methodological approaches may be of applied interest, e.g., in the context of climate change.
Faculties and Departments:05 Faculty of Science > Departement Umweltwissenschaften > Ehemalige Einheiten Umweltwissenschaften > Biogeographie (Nagel)
UniBasel Contributors:Beck, Jan
Item Type:Article, refereed
Article Subtype:Research Article
Bibsysno:Link to catalogue
Publisher:Public Library of Science
e-ISSN:1932-6203
Note:Publication type according to Uni Basel Research Database: Journal article
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Last Modified:31 Aug 2018 06:40
Deposited On:14 Sep 2012 07:09

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