Humanity is now a geological force reshaping the Earth’s surface, atmosphere, and biogeochemistry. This reality has lead Earth System Scientists to argue that we are living in a new geological era – the Anthropocene.
Recently Navin Ramankutty, a colleague of mine here at McGill, and Erle Ellis, from the University of Maryland, have developed a map of the world the acknowledges that we are in the Anthropocene by identifying the anthropogenic biomes that are currently found in the world.
They define an anthropogenic biome as:
Anthropogenic biomes describe globally-significant ecological patterns within the terrestrial biosphere caused by sustained direct human interaction with ecosystems, including agriculture, urbanization, forestry and other land uses. Conventional biomes, such as tropical rainforests or grasslands, are based on global vegetation patterns related to climate. Now that humans have fundamentally altered global patterns of ecosystem form, process, and biodiversity, anthropogenic biomes provide a contemporary view of the terrestrial biosphere in its human-altered form. Anthropogenic biomes may also be termed “anthromes” to distinguish them from conventional biome systems, or “human biomes” (a simpler but less precise term).
The maps can be viewed as PDFs, or interactively using Google Maps or Google Earth. Links to these files can be found in the article in their article Anthropogenic biome maps in the Enclyopedia of the Earth.
If we say that most ecosystems are now anthropogenic, does this devalue the conservation and protection of “Nature”? Have we given those who oppose conservation a new tool to eliminate conservation altogether? Though this was never our intention, it seems to be a potential repercussion of our work.
Here is our defense.
On the one hand, we are convinced, as are many, that it is time to give up on the “protecting fragile nature” approach to conserving a desirable environment. Managing nature in preserves and leaving the rest of the world to its own devices does not and will not achieve our objectives.
It is our hope that in this century we can improve our environmental governance by building a citizen’s “morality of nature” through education and participation, rather than by fear of the consequences. Indeed, there are many indications already that we are getting better at managing the environment, and that the regenerative powers of nature are cleaning our rivers, regrowing our forests, and healing the ozone layer.
We are already in the driver’s seat. If our collective desire leads us to conserve, preserve, and restore “Nature”, we will all be the better off for this. But managing nature as if everything we touch is destroyed just will not get us to where we want to go.
They describe their map in the paper:
Ellis, E. C., and N. Ramankutty. In Press. Putting people in the map: anthropogenic biomes of the world. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6:XXX. doi:10.1890/070062 . (which is available online before publication).