Humanity does things with lasting impact: we can dam a river or make a plateau from a mountaintop. But little that we create is more durable than our trash. That's especially true for modern waste, filled with eternal plastics.
But our ancestors were no slouches when it came to producing durable trash. Or at least durable trash mounds, known as middens.
In fact, such trash middens might be the reason the Everglades in Florida has small, tree-covered islands. That’s according to research presented by paleoecologists at a recent American Geophysical Union conference.
Such tree islands provide a home for nesting alligators, birds, Florida panthers and other wildlife, poking up above the surrounding wetlands. When the researchers dug into the islands, they found ancient middens full of bone remains. Such garbage heaps appear to have fostered the growth of trees and thus accumulations of dirt, seeds and other material that eventually became islands.
But modern humans might yet undo what our ancestors started. Cutting down the trees on the islands or keeping water levels artificially high makes these middens sink back into the muck. And we all know how valuable swampland in Florida can be.