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The cultivation of rice has had a major impact on both societies and their environments in Asia, and in China in particular. Phytolith assemblages from three Neolithic sites in the Lower Yangtze valley reveal that in early rice fields the emphasis was on drainage to limit the amount of water and force the rice to produce seed. It was only in the later third millennium BC that the strategy changed and irrigated paddies came into use. The results demonstrate that plant remains, including weed assemblages, can reveal wetter or drier growing conditions, showing changes in rice cultivation from flooded and drained fields to large, intensively irrigated paddies.
This paper examines choices of earth-working tools made by Neolithic Chinese populations. In the Hemudu Culture (7000–5000 B.P.), bone (scapula) digging tools were used from the earliest times, whereas peoples in surrounding areas used stone spades. A range of experiments on manufacturing costs, durability, and use efficiency under realistic conditions show that bone and stone spades are functionally equivalent when soils are soft, but that stone implements provide significant and easily perceived advantages when working harder soils. The persistence of scapular spades in the Hemudu Culture would have constrained decisions about undertaking large construction projects under normal soil conditions. Our results show that, in addition to generalized labor for construction, labor demands for producing earth-working implements for large-scale prehistoric earthworks could have also been substantial. These findings not only help explain the processes of intensifying rice-agriculture and sedentary settlements in the Lower Yangzi Basin, but also create a solid foundation for further investigation of how the recruitment of both generalized and specialized laborers, the organization of craft production, and the relevant logistics for large-scale earthworks may have paralleled concentrations of political power in prehistory.
To assess the impact of habitat fragmentation on tropical avian communities, we sampled lowland forest birds on six land-bridge islands and two mainland forest sites in Lake Kenyir, Peninsular Malaysia using timed point counts, hypothesizing that insectivorous birds are the worst affected guild. We used an information-theoretic approach to evaluate the effects of area, isolation, primary dietary guild (omnivore, frugivore and insectivore) and their interactions in predicting species richness, abundance and diversity. Our analysis showed that a model that considered the effects of area, dietary guild and their interaction best explained observed patterns of species richness. But a model considering both area and dietary guild best explained the variation in abundance. Notably, insectivorous birds were singled out as the dietary guild most sensitive to fragmentation, followed by frugivorous and omnivorous birds and hence provide support for our hypothesis. Assemblages of insectivorous birds were clearly depauperate on anthropogenic forest islands in Lake Kenyir and are consistent with forest fragmentation studies in the Neotropics. Given their specialized foraging ecology and diversity, conservation of intact communities of insectivorous bird guilds in Malaysia will be critical for maintaining predator–prey interactions in lowland tropical forests.
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