Prehistoric decline in freshwater mussels coincident with the advent of maize agriculture
During late prehistory, high population densities and intensive agricultural practices of Native American societies had profound effects on the pre-Columbian landscape. The degree to which Native American land use affected aquatic ecosystems is unknown. Freshwater mussels are particularly sensitive harbingers of modern-day ecosystem deterioration.We used data from prehistoric Native American shell middens to examine prehistoric trends in abundance of freshwater mussels of the genus Epioblasma in North America during the last 5000 years. The relative abundance of Epioblasma declined steadily during this period, a result that could be explained either by an increase in human impacts to streams or by long-term climatic changes unrelated to human activities. The rate of decline of Epioblasma increased significantly, however, after the advent of largescale maize agriculture in the southeastern United States about 1000 years before the present. Our results suggest that human land-use activities in prehistory caused changes in freshwater mussel communities that were lower in magnitude but similar in direction to changes caused by recent activities.