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97% of Most Species-Rich Places on Earth Have Been Seriously Altered by Humans

Science

By James Cook University

James Cook University's Prof. Bill Laurance has taken part in a study to map the ecological effect of people on the planet. He said the news isn't great.


"The most species-rich parts of the planet—especially including the tropical rainforests—have been hit hardest. In total, around 97 percent of Earth's biologically richest real estate has been seriously altered by humans," he said.

The Congo Basin rainforest in west Africa is one of the biodiversity hotspots that face increasing pressure from human impacts. Photo credit: Severin Stalder via Wikimedia Commons

Peninsular Malaysia, where rampant logging is degrading and opening up forests to further exploitation. Photo credit: William Laurance


The scientists found environmental pressures are widespread, with only a few very remote areas escaping damage.

"Humans are the most voracious consumers planet Earth has ever seen. With our land-use, hunting and other exploitative activities, we are now directly impacting three-quarters of the Earth's land surface," said Laurance.

Researchers combined data garnered from unprecedented advances in remote sensing with information collected via surveys on the ground.

They compared data from the first survey in 1993 to the last available information set from 2009.

Laurance said that 71 percent of global ecoregions saw a marked increase in their human footprints.

But he said the news was not all bad.

Maps showing the current state and recent change in the global human footprint.

"While the global human footprint expanded by nine percent from 1993 to 2009, it didn't increase as fast as the human population—which rose by a quarter—or economic growth—which exploded by over 150 percent—during the same period."

Laurance said wealthy nations and those with strong control of corruption showed some signs of improvement.

"In broad terms, industrial nations and those with lower corruption appear to be doing a better job of slowing the expansion of their human footprint than poorer countries with weak governance. But the wealthy countries have a much higher per-capita footprint, so each person there is consuming a lot more than those in poorer nations."

Laurance said the suitability of lands for agriculture appears to be a major determinant in where ecological pressures appeared around the globe.

"The bottom line is that we need to slow rampant population growth, especially in Africa and parts of Asia and demand that people in wealthy nations consume less," he said.

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