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Abstract

Knowing the biotic responses to past climatic shifts is essential to understand and, eventually, to predict the effects of current and near-future climatic change on ecosystems and human societies. Climate changes can affect human societies in a straightforward, usually catastrophic, manner or through the mediation of the biosphere, which requires a more complex way of thinking. The simplest approaches are called deterministic. Environmental determinism considers that climate is the decisive driver of ecological and societal shifts. The classical example is the effect of extended droughts on particular ecosystems and human societies, and the associated cultural collapses. Human determinism (not to be confused with cultural determinism) considers that anthropogenic activities are the main driver of change. A common example is anthropogenic deforestation and its ecological and cultural consequences. Deterministic views may work in some extreme cases but they have been considered too simplistic to address the consequences of climatic change on ecosystems and societies, in general. This is due to the complexity of climatic-ecological-human systems, which are characterized by frequent feedbacks and synergies within and among its components. The theoretical framework called EHLFS (Environment-Human-Landscape Feedbacks and Synergies) is general enough to accommodate most of the processes experienced by the climate-ecological-human systems under environmental and/or human pressure. The EHLFS approach may also be viewed as a factory of proposals to feed the multiple-working-hypotheses framework and the strong-inference method of hypothesis testing. This talk explains the above concepts and approaches, and utilizes the socio-ecological changes occurred on Easter Island during the last millennium to illustrate the use of the EHLFS approach.

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