Predicting Prehistoric Taro (Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum) Lo'i Distribution in Hawaii

Müller, Jocelyn G.; Ogneva-Himmelberger, Yelena; Lloyd, Stephen; Reed, J. Michael
March 2010
Economic Botany;Mar2010, Vol. 64 Issue 1, p22
Academic Journal
The artificial wetlands created through taro (Colocasia esculenta var. antiquorum) cultivation have played an important but controversial role in discourse on Hawaiian culture, history, and natural resource management. The extent of taro cultivation has risen and fallen dramatically with changes in population, trends, and culture since Hawaii was first settled by humans. However, since peak taro cultivation occurred before most historical records, it is unknown how much artificial wetland was created in prehistoric times. Past estimates of the extent of taro cultivation have been based on prehistoric population estimates, which are in themselves highly contested. Here we present a simple model based on geographic and climate limitations to predict the maximum amount and distribution of land that could have been dedicated to taro production on the main Hawaiian Islands. Using geographic information systems technology, and historical records of taro distribution, we created a map of potential prehistorical taro sites and total land cover. Our model predicts that prehistoric taro could have covered up to 12 times more land than suggested by past estimates. Limitations to this model include the use of current geographic characteristics to predict historical land use patterns and difficulties in creating parameters general enough to capture all sites without overestimating taro cultivation. Despite these limitations, this model does well encompassing known prehistoric and historical taro localities and should serve as a basis for revising estimated taro coverage.


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