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The Ecology of Swidden Cultivation in the Upper Orinoco Rain Forest, Venezuela

David R. Harris
Geographical Review
Vol. 61, No. 4 (Oct., 1971), pp. 475-495
DOI: 10.2307/213388
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/213388
Page Count: 21
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The Ecology of Swidden Cultivation in the Upper Orinoco Rain Forest, Venezuela
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Abstract

In the Upper Orinoco rain forest Amerindians practice a vegecultural form of shifting, or swidden, cultivation. Information was collected about the crops, secondary flora, and soils in cultivated and fallow plots (conucos and rastrojos) and about adjacent tracts of mature secondary forest. Three types of swidden coexist in the area: polycultural conucos, monocultural conucos devoted to manioc or bananas, and monocultural maize conucos that are associated with non-Amerindian influence. Two early stages of forest regeneration in rastrojos are described, and the nutrient status of conuco, rastrojo, and forest soils is compared. It is concluded that vegecultural swidden may depend less on burning to provide nutrients than is commonly supposed and that the failure of the maize-dominated seed-crop complex to diffuse far into tropical lowland South America in prehistoric and historic times may be due largely to the superior ecological fitness of vegeculture.

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