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Classroom Resources: Virginity Lost

By Fred Pearce
January-March 2007 (Vol. 8, No. 1)

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Discussion Questions

  1. What is “the myth of the pristine environment”?
  2. The article portrays disagreement, based on recent findings, over the degree of wildness in places like the Amazon. Could this be, in part, due to different views of what wild means? What are different definitions of “wild” that might concur with different views presented in the article?
  3. The author poses the question “how did scientists get things so wrong for so long?” Does the information in the article convince you that, in fact, scientists have been wrong? If so, what evidence do you find most compelling? If not, what further questions would you like answered?
  4. The author states that “by inadvertently wiping out the Indian populations, it was the Europeans who created the modern Amazon rainforest.” Do you think there were analogous historical situations in North America? What sort of evidence would you look for?
  5. If there are no pristine environments, what should conservation biologists use as ecological benchmarks when making management decisions?

Websites for Further Information

Peer-reviewed Literature

  • Denevan, W.M.   1992.   The pristine myth: the landscape of the Americas in 1492. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82: 369-385.
  • Erickson, C.L.   2000. An artificial landscape-scale fishery in the Bolivian Amazon. Nature 408: 190-193.
  • Glaser B., J. Lehmann , and W. Zech. 2002.   Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal—a review. Biology and Fertility of Soils 35: 219-230.

Key Concepts

  • Historical ecology
  • “The pristine myth”