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Keywords:

  • Agriculture;
  • anthromes;
  • anthropogenic landscapes;
  • conservation;
  • environmental history;
  • global change;
  • land-use change;
  • novel ecosystems;
  • terrestrial ecosystems

ABSTRACT

Aim  To map and characterize anthropogenic transformation of the terrestrial biosphere before and during the Industrial Revolution, from 1700 to 2000.

Location  Global.

Methods  Anthropogenic biomes (anthromes) were mapped for 1700, 1800, 1900 and 2000 using a rule-based anthrome classification model applied to gridded global data for human population density and land use. Anthropogenic transformation of terrestrial biomes was then characterized by map comparisons at century intervals.

Results  In 1700, nearly half of the terrestrial biosphere was wild, without human settlements or substantial land use. Most of the remainder was in a seminatural state (45%) having only minor use for agriculture and settlements. By 2000, the opposite was true, with the majority of the biosphere in agricultural and settled anthromes, less than 20% seminatural and only a quarter left wild. Anthropogenic transformation of the biosphere during the Industrial Revolution resulted about equally from land-use expansion into wildlands and intensification of land use within seminatural anthromes. Transformation pathways differed strongly between biomes and regions, with some remaining mostly wild but with the majority almost completely transformed into rangelands, croplands and villages. In the process of transforming almost 39% of earth's total ice-free surface into agricultural land and settlements, an additional 37% of global land without such use has become embedded within agricultural and settled anthromes.

Main conclusions  Between 1700 and 2000, the terrestrial biosphere made the critical transition from mostly wild to mostly anthropogenic, passing the 50% mark early in the 20th century. At present, and ever more in the future, the form and process of terrestrial ecosystems in most biomes will be predominantly anthropogenic, the product of land use and other direct human interactions with ecosystems. Ecological research and conservation efforts in all but a few biomes would benefit from a primary focus on the novel remnant, recovering and managed ecosystems embedded within used lands.