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Title: Harmful algal blooms and cyanotoxins in Lake Amatitlán, Guatemala, coincided with ancient Maya occupation in the watershed
Human-induced deforestation and soil erosion were environmental stressors for the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica. Furthermore, intense, periodic droughts during the Terminal Classic Period, ca. Common Era 830 to 950, have been documented from lake sediment cores and speleothems. Today, lakes worldwide that are surrounded by dense human settlement and intense riparian land use often develop algae/cyanobacteria blooms that can compromise water quality by depleting oxygen and producing toxins. Such environmental impacts have rarely been explored in the context of ancient Maya settlement. We measured nutrients, biomarkers for cyanobacteria, and the cyanotoxin microcystin in a sediment core from Lake Amatitlán, highland Guatemala, which spans the last ∼2,100 y. The lake is currently hypereutrophic and characterized by high cyanotoxin concentrations from persistent blooms of the cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa . Our paleolimnological data show that harmful cyanobacteria blooms and cyanotoxin production occurred during periods of ancient Maya occupation. Highest prehistoric concentrations of cyanotoxins in the sediment coincided with alterations of the water system in the Maya city of Kaminaljuyú, and changes in nutrient stoichiometry and maximum cyanobacteria abundance were coeval with times of greatest ancient human populations in the watershed. These prehistoric episodes of cyanobacteria proliferation and cyanotoxin production rivaled modern conditions in more » the lake, with respect to both bloom magnitude and toxicity. This suggests that pre-Columbian Maya occupation of the Lake Amatitlán watershed negatively impacted water potability. Prehistoric cultural eutrophication indicates that human-driven nutrient enrichment of water bodies is not an exclusively modern phenomenon and may well have been a stressor for the ancient Maya. « less
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
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National Science Foundation
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