Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography and Anthropology

First Advisor

Kent Mathewson


This dissertation is a study of the causal relationship between the decline of cultural diversity and environmental diversity. My study investigates the larger-scale economic, political, and social factors that result in the rejection of traditional land use strategies and how these changing strategies ultimately lead to an overall decline in environmental diversity in the Mopan Maya landscape in southern Belize. Five Mopan Maya cultural biogeographic case studies are presented, including the management of maize diversity, the species composition and variability of kitchen gardens, swidden-fallow agroforestry practices, traditional bee keeping, and hunting game and habitat preferences. These topics were chosen because each were/are part of the Mopan cultural ecological core. Most indigenous cultures are undergoing rapid social change, and as social change occurs, environmental change soon follows. The Mopan cultural and ecological landscapes are no exception. This dissertation focuses on two factors driving cultural and ecological change among the Mopan: the incorporation of the Mopan into a national and international economy and the influence of foreign evangelical missionaries. Integration into a cash-driven economy has disrupted traditional land tenure and communal labor arrangements. The disruption of traditional tenure arrangements contributes to for example, the abandonment of a long-term, more diverse swidden-fallow agroforestry system among the Mopan. Evangelical missionaries have altered Mopan cultural biogeographical practices by marginalizing traditional agroecological knowledge. For example, certain maize varieties that were used in Maya Catholic ceremonies cease to be planted once converts discontinue many Maya religious activities. As a result, both the Mopan cultural and natural landscape have become more homogeneous with individuals planting fewer varieties of crops, maintaining less diverse kitchen gardens, and reducing fallow lengths to unsustainable levels to name a few examples.