Environmental researchers at the University of Maryland and McGill University argue that more than 80% of the Earth’s surface has been fundamentally altered by humans, and that humans are the ultimate ecosystem engineers rather than natural systems. They assert that the current system of classifying ecosystems into biomes (or “ecological communities”) like tropical rainforests, grasslands and deserts may be misleading. Instead, they propose an entirely new model of human-centered “anthropegenic” biomes.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ecological land classification system identifies 14 major biomes, including tundra, boreal forests, temperate coniferous forests and deserts and xeric shrublands. The researchers propose a radically new system of anthropogenic biomes — dubbed “anthromes” — which include villages, dense settlements, forested, residential rangelands, and croplands.
According to their research, “viewing a global map of anthropogenic biomes shows clearly the inextricable intermingling of human and natural systems almost everywhere on Earth’s terrestrial surface, demonstrating that interactions between these systems can no longer be avoided in any significant way.”
Read more about their research on the Encyclopedia of the Earth here. The article includes a PowerPoint download with animation, and a large-format wall map of the Anthropogenic Biome map that is pictured above. Visualizations have also been provided within Google Earth, Google Maps and Microsoft Virtual Earth.
This new take on Earth systems is a healthy adjustment that acknowledges that humans have great impact, and that we’re here to stay. Restoration of ecosystems must take into account human activities, and acknowledgment of human-centric environmental drivers will allow us to better understand our impacts on our Earth.