How did the varied environments of the Western hemisphere shape the emergence of a wide diversity of Native American cultures?
Environment was not the only factor, but it was influential. Native peoples in Mexico and the American Southeast practiced settled agriculture based on the cultivation of high-yield crops such as maize, beans and squash. This contributed to a highly stratified society with powerful chiefdoms holding sway over subject peoples. This society was beginning to weaken and fracture when Southeastern Indians first encountered European peoples.
Indians in the American Southwest, on the other hand, also practiced settled agriculture, but did so through large-scale irrigation. Northeastern Indians also practiced agriculture, but were more dependent on hunting and gathering than people in more temperate regions. Additionally, the abundance of rivers and lakes in the Northeast contributed to the economic and diplomatic power of Indian peoples in the region, who were ideally situated to dominate trade. Native peoples on the Great Plains, on the other hand, adopted a semi-nomadic way of life centered on horses (which they had adopted from the Spanish) and the buffalo.