Devastation of New World Ecosystems During the Age of Discovery

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The New World, in the minds and descriptions of European explorers and settlers during the sixteenth century, was comparable to a paradise on earth. The landscape was so vast and indescribably beautiful that even Columbus had trouble articulating its splendor. However, lacking a consciousness of conservation, Europeans felt little remorse in exploiting the land and subjugating its people. From the beginning Europeans set out to transform as much of the New World into the Old World as possible. As a result, the New World, over the course of two centuries, was overtaken by foreign plant and animal species, leveled by deforestation, and devastated by disease. This imposition of Old World values significantly impacted the ecology of the New World. One of the main reasons that Europeans were so successful in increasing their numbers in the New World was their ability to distribute and grow native plants in areas where they previously had been unknown (Crosby, 66). Also, many Europeans made large profits from cultivating native plants such as tobacco, cocoa, paprika, American cotton, and sassafras (Crosby, 66). Despite these successes with native plants, true ecological effects of European expansion on the New World during the age of discovery is not revealed unless focus is placed on the large numbers of non native plants that were introduced by European explorers and settlers. The subsequent introduction of European plants brought an end to the unique plant cultures that had existed for thousands of years prior to the discovery of the New World. The expansion of European plants into the New World commenced with Columbus's second voyage (Crosby, 67). Columbus loaded his seventeen ship fleet with seeds and crop-producing fruits ... ... middle of paper ... ...uring the age of discovery, it is that environments and ecosystems are fragile and can be easily altered with devastating results. Therefore, as humans continue to discover exciting new worlds, either in the darkest depths of the ocean or on the surface of a strange new planet, it is important that we as humans consider the ecological impacts that may result from those discoveries. Works Cited Crosby, A. (1986). Ecological imperialism the biological expansion of Europe. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Crosby, A. (1967). The Columbian exchange. Westport, Conn: Duke University Press. Cronon, W. (1983). Changes in the land. New York, NY: Hill and Wang. Roberts, N. (1989). The Holocene: an environmental history. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Cowley, G. (1991). "The great disease migration." Newsweek, special edition, 54-56.

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