For as long as humans have erected walls around our cities, we’ve considered culture separate from the encircling wilderness. This difference came to be expressed in our “man vs. nature” narratives, beliefs in our dominion over the nonhuman world, and lately even the assertion that the Earth would be better off without us. Ecology research has strangely almost never included humans in the picture. And yet Homo sapiens is a phenomenon of nature, woven into food webs, demonstrating the same principles at work as any other creature on this planet. New research into trophic networks — who’s eating whom — has bridged ecology and archaeology to shed light on the many ways that human beings have participated as key members of ecosystems round the globe. The emerging portrait of our place in nature offers us the opportunity to tell new stories of the hairless ape and what we’re doing here — and just in time, perhaps, to help reshape our attitudes toward conservation and development, and what we dare to hope for in the years to come.
This week’s guest is Jennifer Dunne, SFI’s Vice President for Science and Fellow at the Ecological Society of America. Dunne got her PhD in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley, joined SFI’s faculty in 2007, and sits on the advisory board for Nautilus Magazine. In the first half of a two-part conversation, we discuss her work on food and use webs and the ArchaeoEcology Project working group at SFI, where she and her collaborators are transforming how we think of human history.
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The New York Times features Dunne’s collaborator, SFI Postdoc Stefani Crabtree and her work on the Martu people of Australia.
Learn more about The ArchaeoEcology Project.
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