Rethinking the ‘Atlantic Forest’ of Brazil: new evidence for land cover and land value in western São Paulo, 1900–1930
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Historical geographies of environmental resources need reliable biophysical baselines. In this essay, I construct a vegetation baseline for early-twentieth-century southeastern Brazil using new empirical evidence. Analysis of land subdivision court proceedings and postmortem property inventories suggests a mosaic of semideciduous mesophytic forest, subtropical savanna (Cerrado) and dense arboreal savanna (Cerradão) in western Sāo Paulo state, Brazil. The findings support the claims of botanists and biogeographers regarding the relationship between vegetation communities and chemical-physical soil characteristics. The idea of a mosaic of early-twentieth-century vegetation also provides the basis for questioning the 'Atlantic Forest' supported by Warren Dean's With Broadax and Firebrand. The conclusions raise the epistemological issue of how to reconstruct biophysical baselines. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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